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Medications for Back Pain and Neck Pain

An Introduction to a Common First-line Treatment

Medications are among the most common non-surgical treatments for back pain and neck pain. The degree of your pain determines what medications you'll need, but in most cases, your doctor will suggest over-the-counter medications as a first-line of treatment. If your symptoms persist, prescription drugs may be necessary.

Over-the-counter Medications for Back Pain
Almost everyone, at one time or another, experiences back pain or neck pain. Maybe you slept funny and woke up with a sore neck or over-extended yourself while raking the leaves. You may have pain, but it's not debilitating or chronic. In these cases, over-the-counter medications may provide sufficient pain relief.

Types of over-the-counter medications include:

Over-the-counter drugs aren't just for the most minor aches and pains. Even if you have severe back pain, your doctor will most likely start you out on over-the-counter medications. If you're still in pain, then you may need prescription medications.

Prescription Medications: Are They an Option for You?
Sometimes, back pain is so intense that over-the-counter drugs may not be enough to control your symptoms. If you've exhausted every over-the-counter option, prescription medications are the next logical step in finding a treatment that manages your pain.

There are many types of prescription medications available for back pain. Some may not be applicable to your condition or symptoms—your doctor will find the best option for you.

Types of prescription medications include:

  • Analgesics: Prescription-strength drugs that relieve pain but not inflammation.
  • Anti-depressants: Drugs that block pain messages from your brain and boost the effects of endorphins (your body's natural painkillers).
  • Corticosteroids: Also known as oral steroids, these medications reduce inflammation.
  • Muscle Relaxants: These medications provide relief from spinal muscle spasms.
  • Neuropathic Agents: Drugs that address neuropathic—or nerve-related—pain. This includes burning, numbness, and tingling.
  • NSAIDs: Prescription-strength drugs that reduce both pain and inflammation.
  • Opioids: Also known as narcotics, these medications are intense pain relievers that should only be used under a doctor's careful supervision.
  • Topical Medications: These prescription-strength creams, gels, ointments, patches, and sprays help relieve pain and inflammation through the skin.

Medication Warning
One of the most important things to understand about medications—both over-the-counter and prescription—is to listen to the advice of your doctor. This is especially true if you are taking herbal remedies that may interact with your current medications. If you are taking an over-the-counter medication, follow the directions on the package, unless instructed otherwise by your doctor. Just because a medication can be purchased without a prescription does not mean it can't cause problems if used incorrectly.

Always discuss every medication with your doctor. Don't hesitate to contact your doctor if you have a question regarding your medication. If you don't follow your doctor's instructions precisely, you risk causing further complications. But if you take your treatment regimen seriously, you're much more likely to reduce your back pain and neck pain.

Updated on: 10/08/14
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If you have back pain or neck pain, regardless of your specific condition, drugs and medications will most likely be part of your treatment regimen. This article includes links to other articles on medications for common spinal conditions.
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