What Will Doctors Prescribe for Back Pain?


Causes of Back Pain

Back pain is a common problem among many people and the sources of this pain can be varied. Common causes of back pain include muscle strain, posture issues, and injuries. It is important to determine the cause of your back pain in order to properly address the issue and ensure that you find the best treatment option.

In this article, we will discuss the causes of back pain and what types of treatments doctors may prescribe for relief:

  • Muscle strain
  • Posture issues
  • Injuries


Injuries can cause back pain in people of all ages. While most commonly associated with playing sports or engaging in activities that put the body through the rigors of intense physical strain, they can also result from everyday tasks such as doing yard work or lifting objects improperly.

Injury-related back pain tends to be more severe than other types of back pain and is often characterized by sudden onset, resulting from acute trauma or incident such as a fall, car accident, poor posture, or prolonged repetitive movements. It may also be related to degeneration due to age.

Depending on the type and severity of the injury, treatment for back pain may involve a combination of rest and/or medication including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, and narcotic pain medications. In some cases, further testing such as an X-ray or MRI may be necessary in order to pinpoint the exact source of the problem and develop a comprehensive treatment plan. Physical therapy can also play a role in the healing process; this usually begins with exercises designed to:

  • improve flexibility
  • stabilize muscles
  • strengthen core muscle groups
  • prevent recurring episodes of back pain


Back pain can be caused by medical conditions and diseases. Some of the more common diseases that can cause back pain include:

  1. Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become more fragile and prone to breaking. As we age, our bones naturally become weaker, causing an increased risk of fractures or breaks in the vertebrae, leading to back pain.
  2. Spinal Stenosis: Spinal stenosis occurs when your spinal canal narrows, which puts pressure on the nerves inside your spine. This leads to feelings of numbness or weakness in your legs as well as back pain.
  3. Sciatica: Sciatica is a common form of back pain caused by muscle spasms or pinched nerves in your lower spine. It typically causes radiating pain down one side of your leg and can be extremely painful at times.
  4. Arthritis: Arthritis causes inflammation in the joints that can lead to back pain, stiffness, swelling, and aching sensations in various parts of the body including the lower back area. In severe cases, it may cause loss of flexibility in your spine as well as difficulty moving around without considerable discomfort or pain.
  5. Disc Degeneration Disorders: Disc degeneration disorders are caused by discs in your lower spine that wear away over time due to aging and other factors such as injury or lifestyle choices like smoking or poor posture that put extra strain on these areas of your body. These disorders cause disc herniations and can lead to radiating back and neck pain as well as difficulty standing for too long periods of time or performing certain types of movements with ease.

Degenerative Conditions

Degenerative conditions refer to problems associated with age-related wear and tear of the spine, resulting from natural degeneration of the intervertebral discs, joints, muscles, and ligaments. These conditions are among the most common causes of back pain in adults.

The primary degenerative condition is commonly referred to as osteoarthritis or “spondylosis”, which is a general term for any form of arthritis affecting the spine. Age-related degeneration can also lead to disc herniation or pinched nerves in the spine that radiates pain into different parts of your body. Other common age-related causes include spinal stenosis (narrowing of the canal through which spinal nerves run) and facet joint dysfunction (inflammation in one or more facet joints).

In addition to age-related wear and tear, there are other degenerative back pain conditions that can be caused by genetics, or underlying medical conditions such as osteoporosis, spinal trauma, or injury. It is important to diagnose which back pain condition you have in order to receive effective treatment; your doctor may recommend medications such as muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs; physical therapy; nerve blocks; steroid injections; chiropractic care; acupuncture; hot/cold therapy; or therapeutic ultrasound. In severe cases where these treatments do not provide relief from chronic pain due to degenerative conditions such as disc herniation or knee neurological disorders surgery may be recommended by a doctor for long-term relief.


When it comes to dealing with back pain, the first step is to get a proper diagnosis of what is causing the pain. Depending on the underlying cause, doctors may recommend different treatments and medications. In some cases, they may combine different treatments like physical therapy and medications to provide the best relief.

In this article, we will discuss the diagnosis and treatments that doctors may prescribe for back pain:

Physical Examination

A doctor will typically begin the diagnosis of back pain by taking a patient history to determine the type and duration of pain experienced, as well as other activities or events that may be exacerbating or contributing to it. This can include lifestyle factors such as sleeping position, physical activity, or stress levels. The doctor can also learn about medications that have been taken previously, including over-the-counter remedies and prescription medicines.

The next step is a physical examination. This can involve observing how well the patient moves, along with testing the range of motion using hands-on techniques. During the examination, special emphasis is placed on any areas of tenderness that may help pinpoint the source of discomfort within the back muscles, joints, and/or discs in between vertebrae. Testing the range of motion can also help identify potential cord or nerve compression caused by a herniated disc in cases where sciatica symptoms are present.

Other tests used during a physical examination to evaluate back pain include:

  • Palpation (gently pressing on certain areas to test for swelling or tenderness)
  • Percussion (tapping along bony areas)
  • Active resistive movements (exercises done against resistance)
  • Passive movements (moving parts without muscular effort)

Certain laboratory tests and imaging studies such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs may also be ordered by a doctor for more detailed information about possible structural abnormalities.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests such as x-rays, MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), or CT scans (computed tomography scans) are used to diagnose back pain. An X-ray is the go-to imaging technique for lower back pain and is typically taken right away after a diagnosis. MRIs and CT scans can provide more detailed images but require a more specialized appointment with a radiologist. These imaging tests are not always necessary in diagnosing back pain but can be helpful depending on the type and location of the pain. Radiologists look for signs of slipped discs, fractures, or infections that can cause painful outcomes.

  • X-Rays: X-ray imaging is the most common type of diagnostic used for lower back pain. The x-rays highlight areas where there may be misalignment in the bones, narrowing of spinal structures such as discs, or fractures present within the bones themselves.
  • MRIs: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is highly detailed and provides very accurate results in images that specifically show problems related to soft tissues within the body. This includes ligaments and muscles as well as disc degeneration which can lead to herniations that cause chronic lower back pain. MRI examinations do require higher doses of radiation than CT scans so they should only be used if necessary.
  • CT Scans: Computed tomography (CT) scanning involves taking countless x-ray images from multiple angles that combine to make 3D digital representations of internal organs and structures inside your body including your spine, rib cage, and internal organs like your lungs or heart. CT scans are most commonly used in spinal cord injuries are suspected as well as during complicated surgeries like tumor removal or spinal fusion surgery when precise cutting needs to be done around delicate areas of nerve roots present along the vertebral column.

Blood Tests

Blood tests are commonly used to help diagnose the underlying cause of back pain. Diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) can be helpful in diagnosing infections or inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis.

Other tests may be used to measure levels of certain proteins in the blood that can suggest inflammatory processes and/or autoimmune diseases. Blood tests can also be used to measure muscle enzymes, which may indicate muscle injury.

In some cases, a sample of tissue from the area may also be taken for further examination if doctors suspect cancer or other serious conditions.

Treatment Options

When it comes to back pain, there are a variety of treatment options available to patients. Depending on the severity and cause of the back pain, doctors may choose to prescribe a variety of medications, physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, or alternative treatments.

In this article, we will discuss the different treatment options available and how they can be used to reduce or eliminate back pain:


Medications are often used to help manage acute and chronic back pain, providing relief from inflammation and pain-causing chemicals. Several different types of medications may be prescribed, depending on the severity of the condition and the patient’s medical history. Commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These are over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). They reduce inflammation and can help to diminish pain.
  • Oral corticosteroids: Drugs such as prednisone reduce inflammation in the body, helping to relieve pain and swelling associated with back injuries or conditions.
  • Opioids: Stronger drugs such as morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and tramadol may be recommended for short-term relief from severe pain that does not respond well to other treatments. It is important to note that opioids have a high potential for misuse and should be taken only under a doctor’s close supervision.
  • Muscle relaxants: These medications are designed to help reduce muscle spasms in the back which can contribute to pain. Common muscle relaxants include carisoprodol (Soma) and cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril).

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a common option for treating back pain. A physical therapist uses different tools and techniques to alleviate pain and promote healing in the affected area. These methods can include massage, manual manipulation, stretching exercises, hot/cold treatments, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound therapy.

The goals of physical therapy are to reduce muscle spasms, swelling and inflammation as well as improve mobility and body mechanics issues. The therapist will teach the patient exercises to help decrease or eliminate pain as well as corrective postural control activities that may be contributing to the condition.

Other treatments may also be used in combination with physical therapy to hasten relief from pain. This includes:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections that can provide temporary relief or improved mobility,
  • A variety of assistive devices such as braces or supports, splints, and cushions aid in the proper positioning of body parts while sleeping or sitting.


Surgery is typically the last option when considering treatments for back pain, as the risks associated with any type of operation can be serious. Treatment may include fusion or disc removal to realign and stabilize the spine if nonsurgical options are not effective. Minimally invasive techniques are preferred as they result in less tissue damage, but in some cases, open surgery may be necessary.

Patients should never agree to surgery until they’ve exhausted all other treatment options and have been thoroughly assessed by a physician.

Natural Remedies

While doctors may prescribe medications for back pain, there are also natural remedies that may help reduce your symptoms. Many people prefer to pursue natural remedies for back pain because they are usually more cost-effective and are less likely to cause side effects. In this article, we will explore some of the natural remedies for back pain that doctors may prescribe:

  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga and stretching exercises
  • Massage therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Herbal supplements
  • Heat and cold therapy


Exercise is often one of the first natural remedies that doctors will suggest for back pain. Regular exercise offers a wide range of benefits including improved strength and flexibility, increased circulation, and increased endorphins, which are known to help reduce physical and mental pain.

Exercises to help manage back pain can include low-impact exercises such as walking, cycling, swimming, or light stretching. For those with more severe back pain, doing a few specific strengthening exercises may be beneficial. Strengthening the core muscles can help to provide improved stability for the rest of the body. Strengthening exercises include planks, bridges, and other abdominal crunches. Back extensions are recommended for those with lower back issues since they will provide an extra layer of strength. Finally, low-impact yoga poses such as the cat/cow pose allow you to stretch while gently working your muscles which can help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with back pain.

In addition to exercise, it is important that individuals take care to maintain good posture while standing or sitting throughout their daily activities in order to lessen the strain on the spine and support ligaments throughout their body. Regular breaks from long periods of sitting or standing may also be beneficial in decreasing any pressure placed on spinal discs during prolonged inactivity.

Diet Changes

When it comes to back pain, there are several diet changes that your doctor may recommend prior to considering medications or more aggressive treatments. Eating a balanced diet full of nutrient-rich foods can provide the body with many important nutrients needed to promote healing and reduce inflammation. Additionally, eating a diet that is low in saturated fats and sugars can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, which are associated with back pain.

One of the most common changes your doctor may suggest is reducing your intake of processed foods and adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your daily meals. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, and legumes can fuel the body with important vitamins and minerals for sustainability. Also adding anti-inflammatory foods such as avocado; lean proteins from fish; cruciferous vegetables like broccoli; raw nuts like almonds, walnuts, or pecans; fibers from whole grains like quinoa or oats; omega-3 fatty acids from salmon or tuna; turmeric; green tea; ginger or garlic can help reduce inflammation within the body as well.

Your doctor may also recommend you drink more water throughout your day in order to keep your body hydrated and aid digestion (which is essential for removing toxins from the body). Furthermore, certain lifestyle changes such as stress management techniques through mindfulness exercises like yoga and meditation can also be beneficial for reducing back pain caused by tension or stress-related issues. Finally engaging in regular physical exercise that is designed specifically for building core strength (which helps support lower back muscles) can also provide relief from discomfort over time.

Stress Management

Back pain can also be related to unresolved psychological tension. Stress management can therefore be an important tool in helping to reduce back pain. Studies indicate that people who use a combination of relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and guided visualization, have fewer recurrences of back pain. Other techniques, such as yoga and tai chi, are also effective ways of managing stress and improving the body’s ability to cope with physical pain.

Exercise is equally important for reducing the risk of recurrent back strain. Low-impact activities that promote flexibility, strength, and endurance are recommended for patients with back problems. Physical therapy can often help increase strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the lumbar spine area. Regular massage therapy is also essential for helping manage chronic back pain by reducing muscle spasms and promoting relaxation.

Follow-up Care

Following an initial consultation and diagnosis, it is common for a doctor to prescribe an ongoing treatment plan for back pain sufferers. This could include various methods such as:

  • Medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Massage therapy

Depending on the severity of the back pain, a doctor may prescribe a combination of the aforementioned treatments in order to ensure the patient receives the best possible care.

Follow-up Appointments

Your doctor may set up regular follow-up appointments after your initial visit for back pain relief. Follow-up appointments provide an opportunity for you and your healthcare provider to assess your progress in relieving back pain and to make modifications to your treatment plan as needed.

It is important to keep all of your follow-up appointments as they provide a valuable opportunity to discuss any new medical information or symptoms with your doctor. During each appointment, you should be prepared to answer questions about your symptoms, present improvement or decline in pain levels, and describe any changes in lifestyle that could impact the condition of your back.

During the follow-up appointment, the doctor may also request additional tests such as x-rays or other imaging procedures to look at the cause of the pain and rule out any underlying medical conditions. The doctor will also likely ask how well medications are working (if applicable) and if anything needs adjusting.

If physical therapy was recommended during your initial visit, you should be prepared to discuss with the doctor how effective it has been in alleviating back pain during this session. With this information, the physician can decide whether physical therapy is appropriate for continued treatment or if other methods need to be explored for long-term relief from symptoms like chronic lower back pain or sciatica nerve issues.

Self-Care Strategies

For many lower back pain sufferers, self-care strategies, such as modifying daily activities or exercising under the direction of a physical therapist, can be extremely beneficial in helping to manage symptoms of discomfort. These strategies can be employed with or without medication.

When engaging in self-care treatments for lower back pain, it’s important to start slowly and gently. As your body adapts over time, you may want to increase the intensity and duration of your self-care behaviors. Here are some common forms of self-care that your doctor may suggest:

  • Physical Activity: Engaging in light activity such as walking or stretching can help improve your range of motion and reduce muscle tension. Make sure that you properly warm up before each session and don’t forget to cool down afterward!
  • Aerobic Exercise: Your doctor may advise engaging in low-impact aerobic exercises like swimming or biking for at least 20 minutes a day. This has been shown to help individuals handle physical discomfort better when utilized consistently over a period of time.
  • Stress Management: Stress exacerbates symptoms of lower back pain, so managing stress through activities like deep breathing or relaxation methods can greatly improve your condition. Additionally, incorporating measures such as muscle relaxation exercises during times of heightened stress has also proved beneficial for some sufferers’ particular ailments.
  • Posture Correction: Poor posture is a common cause of lower back pain flare-ups so consciously practicing appropriate posture daily will assist with reducing discomfort levels associated with this complaint.
  • Back Safety: It is important to remember that twisting motions or heavy lifting positions should be avoided when experiencing bouts with lower back pain in order to prevent further injury from occurring and making symptoms worse. Always remember to ask family members for help if moving something heavy is necessary!

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to manage, reduce and even eliminate back pain. As muscles in the back become stronger and more flexible, they better support the spine, reducing any pressure or tension on sensitive areas.

Low-impact aerobic activities – such as swimming, biking, brisk walking, or water-based activities – are ideal for working for all your muscle groups without overstraining your joints. Choose activities that you enjoy and stick with them for a steady amount of time over the course of several weeks for the best results.

Along with regular exercise, your doctor may suggest you incorporate braces or a corset into your regimen. This supportive device can help reduce stress on weak muscles of the lower back and can provide comfortable positioning assistance when sitting or standing upright for long periods of time.

Frequently Asked Questions

The best treatment for back pain depends on the cause of the pain. Common treatments include physical therapy, medications, heat or cold therapy, massage, acupuncture, and exercise. In some cases, surgery may be necessary. It is important to talk to your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you.

Yes, ibuprofen can be taken for back pain. However, you should always consult with your doctor before taking any medications.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen are often helpful for relieving mild to moderate back pain. Additional therapies such as heat, ice, and physical therapy may also be beneficial. If self-care measures do not help, a doctor may prescribe stronger medications or other treatments.

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