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Types of Medications and Back Pain

The way pain is felt in everyone is very different, which is why people do not respond in the same way to the same medication. Pain is a symptom not a diagnosis; it is there to tell you that something is wrong. Before any medication is given or taken the right diagnosis must be made to make sure the most suitable medication is used.

For those suffering from back pain the most common types of medication which are available to them are Topical Preparations, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, Acetaminophen, Muscle Relaxants and Narcotics. They all have their own qualities and target pain differently. It is recommended that you avoid alcohol when taking any medications for pain.

Topical Preparations

Topical treatments are used on the skin and usually come in the form of a cream or a spray. They are useful because they cause fewer side-effects than medication taken orally.

The creams or sprays are applied to the area of pain and they work by motivating the nerve endings into altered sensations which reduces soreness and swelling.

You must be careful if you have broken skin, rashes, asthma or if you are taking other medications as the same ingredient may be in both, which can lead to an accidental overdose.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)

These types of drugs are available without prescription; they are effective when used for lower back pain and muscular strains/sprains. The drugs work by interfering with the chemicals which is accountable for causing inflammation and swelling. They are reasonably priced to purchase and typical types of NSAIDs include Aspirin, Ibuprofen and Diclofenac.

Always use NSAIDs as directed and never exceed the dose stated. Caution should be taken with those who have asthma, if there are any concerns, always seek advice from the pharmacist on-duty or ring NHS Direct on 0845 4647.


This drug is one of the most frequently used drugs that there is as it has the smallest number of side-effects. The good thing about this drug is that there is no possibility of getting addicted to it. It also doesn’t meddle with the gastro-intestinal tract and the rate for having an allergic reaction is very low. Paracetamol works by changing the pain receptors in the person’s brain, in doing so it alters pain sensitivity and its sensation. It is quite inexpensive to purchase and effective in treating both mild and extreme pain.

If paracetamol is being taken for pain then you should always read the ingredients of other medicines being used as paracetamol is found in numerous non-prescription drugs. Liver damage can occur from an over-dose of paracetamol so those who suffer with liver impairment should be careful.

Muscle Relaxants

Muscle relaxants work by re-straining the pain responses in the nervous system and lessening the muscle tone. They work well in the treatment of muscle spasms and movement can get better. Muscle relaxants work well when used together with an anti-inflammatory drug.

There are side-effects in using muscle relaxants such as nausea and drowsiness so you should take care when driving or operating machinery. For pain relief the most common type of muscle relaxant which is used is benzodiazepine. It is better to take it at night as it can be drowsy so it can be used to help you sleep peacefully.


There are two groups of narcotics, opioids and opiates. Opiates are derived from plant sources, generally the poppy and opioids are a chemical that is found in humans or a very close synthetic imitation. You can only get narcotics by prescription only.

They are most successful in treating acute pain, post-operative pain and sometimes in the case of chronic pain but using narcotics over a long period of time for chronic pain can result in tolerance or dependence in which case the dosage taken must allow for this in case it happens. Narcotics are usually prescribed alongside a NSAID and they work by attaching to receptors in the brain, spinal cord and gastro-intestinal tract. They meddle with the transmission of pain messages which changes the feeling of pain.

When narcotics are prescribed for chronic back pain and long term use is expected, then different routes of administration can be obtainable. You should talk to your GP or Specialist Pain Team at your nearest hospital.

There are numerous side-effects of narcotics which include drowsiness, nausea, vomiting and constipation. A more serious side-effect is respiratory depression; if this occurs, seek medical advice immediately.

Other Medications Used for Treating Back Pain

There are a variety of substitute medications used in treating back pain such as anti-depressants, anti-seizure drugs and natural remedies. These are discussed in more detail in other sections.

All medications call for the user to implement care at all times when handling the drugs. Always take the medication as directed and if you are uncertain or feel your combination is not ideal then discuss it with your doctor. Sometimes a mixture of drug groups is needed to achieve a suitable level of pain relief for the sufferer.

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