Mild pain medications can reduce inflammation and pain when taken properly. Medications will not stop degeneration, but they will help with pain control.


Aspirin compounds are over-the-counter pain relievers that can help relieve minor pain and back ache. The main potential side effect of aspirin is the development of stomach problems, particularly ulcers with or without bleeding. You should not take aspirin if you are pregnant. In fact, you should not take any medication unless you have discussed the medication with your obstetrician.

NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)

NSAIDs include over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen. These medications once were only available by prescription. NSAIDs are very effective in relieving the pain associated with muscle strain and inflammation. They block the inflammatory response in joints. However, be aware that NSAIDs can decrease renal function if you are an older patient. Excessive use can lead to kidney problems. Again, do not take them if you are pregnant.

Non-narcotic Prescription Pain Medication

Non-narcotic analgesics (the term analgesics means "pain relievers") address pain at the point of injury. Analgesics are ideal in the treatment of mild to moderate chronic pain. Tylenol and aspirin are the most widely used over-the-counter analgesics. Medications that are analgesics and require a prescription from the doctor include NSAIDs such as: carprofen, fenoprofen, ketoprofen, and sulindac. To reduce any side effects: do not lie down for 15 to 30 minutes after taking medication, avoid direct sunlight, wear protective clothing, and sun block. Avoid using these medications if you are pregnant, have recurrent ulcers, or liver problems.

Narcotic Pain Medications

If you experience severe pain, your health provider might prescribe a narcotic pain medication such as codeine and morphine. Narcotics relieve pain by acting as a numbing anesthetic to the central nervous system. The strength and length of pain relief differs for each drug. Narcotics can cause related side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, and sedation or drowsiness. These side effects are predictable and can often be prevented. Common preventative measures include: not taking sleeping aids or antidepressants in conjunction with narcotics, avoiding alcohol, increasing fluid intake, eating a high fiber diet, and using a fiber laxative or stool softener to treat constipation. Remember that narcotics can be addictive if used excessively or improperly.

Muscle Relaxants

If you are having muscle spasms, muscle relaxants can help relieve pain, but they are only shown to be marginally effective. They also have a significant risk of drowsiness and depression. Long-term use is not suggested; only three to four days is typically recommended.


Back pain is actually a common symptom of depression and could be an indicator of its presence. Antidepressants can relieve emotional stress that leads to symptoms of back pain. An important fact to note - it seems that the same chemical reactions in the nerve cells that trigger depression also control the pain pathways in the brain. Some antidepressant medications seem to reduce pain, probably because they affect this chemical reaction in the nerve cells. Some types of antidepressants also make rather good sleeping medications. If you are having trouble sleeping due to your back pain, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant to help you get back to a normal sleep routine. Antidepressants can have several side effects such as: drowsiness, loss of appetite, constipation, dry mouth, and fatigue.

Copyright © 2003 DePuy Acromed.

« Back to Patient Guides