Arthritis: Medications to Relieve Pain
Spinal arthritis, called osteoarthritis or spondylosis is a common cause of back pain.
The type of arthritis that more commonly affects the spine is osteoarthritis, also called spondylosis. Other types of arthritis, inflammatory in nature include rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Here, we provide you with information about medications for osteoarthritis that may affect your neck, mid back, and/or low back.
Pain and Other Symptoms
The intensity and type of pain people experience as a result of arthritis in the spine varies from mild to severe, and occasional to episodic to chronic. Each type of pain is treated differently. Of course, it is not uncommon for arthritic neck or back pain to be accompanied by other symptoms, such as tingling sensations, numbness, or muscle spasms.
OTC and Prescription Drugs
Over-the-counter and prescription medications for spinal arthritis are usually the same as those taken to treat joint-related arthritic pain in the hips and knees—unless the diagnosis is rheumatoid or another type of inflammatory arthritis. For patients with symptoms of pain or numbness affecting the arms or legs, a spinal injection may be considered.
People with spinal arthritis today have access to different types of pain medications that can be taken or applied to relieve pain. Some require a doctor's prescription, some do not. However, do not assume that just because a drug is available without a prescription or "over the counter", it is safe for everyone.
Why Talk With Your Doctor First
Talk to your doctor about which pain medications are best for you. Be sure to let your doctor know what other medications you are taking, even for other health problems. Besides other drugs you take, tell your doctor about any vitamins, supplements or herbal products you use. This can help you to avoid drug interactions.
Non-Prescription Medications Include:
- Acetaminophen (ie, Tylenol) is the drug of choice for mild to moderate spinal arthritis pain because it has few side effects and is relatively inexpensive. It is taken to help relieve pain but does not reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen may cause or contribute to liver problems when consumed with alcohol.
- Non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) are often taken to help relieve moderate to severe osteoarthritis pain. These medications treat pain and inflammation. Like acetaminophen, they are relatively inexpensive. However, many patients report stomach upset from NSAIDs. These drugs may also interfere with other medications or cause serious side effects. Talk to your doctor before taking any NSAIDs.
- Topical creams and ointments may be applied to skin where pain is felt. There are many different types of these OTC products.
Prescription Medications Include:
- Prescription strength NSAIDs are stronger doses of a chosen nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that helps block certain pain-producing chemicals in your body.
- Muscle relaxants have a sedating effect and are prescribed to ease muscle tension.
- Opioids (oxycodone, morphine, codeine, fentanyl) may be prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain.
- Lidocaine in an adhesive patch form may be prescribed for placement on the skin over the painful area.
Talk with your doctor about your neck and/or back pain to make sure your diagnosis is accurate and current. Remember that certain types of back problems are degenerative, meaning they may change, improve or worsen with time. Management of your spinal arthritis pain may involve more than one medication or therapy. You have choices, and your doctor can work with you to find the right drug or combination of medications and therapies.