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3 min read

The best painkillers for back pain

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Most cases of back pain get better within a few weeks or months; however, taking painkillers can be important for managing any pain you may be in.

There are different types of painkillers that you can take for back pain: simple painkillers and strong (opioid) painkillers.

Simple painkillers

Simple painkillers, such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help to relieve back pain.

They do not contain strong pain-killing medicines, known as opioids.

In some countries, you can buy simple painkillers directly from a pharmacy or supermarket. However, in others paracetamol and NSAIDs will need to be prescribed by a doctor or another health professional.

Paracetamol and NSAIDs aren't suitable for everyone, so check the box or leaflet to see whether you can take the medicine first. Speak to a pharmacist if you're not sure.

Applying a warm compress to your back can also provide short-term relief from pain.

You can buy heat patches from your local pharmacy, but a hot water bottle will work just as well.

Strong painkillers

If your pain doesn’t improve with simple painkillers and heat, your doctor may also prescribe a muscle relaxant or a stronger type of painkiller.

Strong painkillers usually contain a type of medicine known as an opioid. Opioids help to decrease pain by working on pain receptors in the brain and body.

They are known to be habit-forming, which means you can become dependent on them if you take them for a certain period of time.

Muscle relaxants can also cause dependency if taken for a certain period of time. This is why your doctor may only give you a short course of strong painkillers or muscle relaxants if they think you need strong pain relief.

Find out more about other ways to manage back pain.

Key points

  • most cases of back pain clear within a few weeks or months, but if you’re in pain, painkillers can help
  • there are different types of painkillers you can try for back pain: simple painkillers and strong (opioid) painkillers
  • simple painkillers, like paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help ease pain. These aren’t suitable for everyone, so check with a pharmacist or doctor before taking them
  • a warm compress can also be used to help ease back pain
  • if simple painkillers aren’t effective, or you can’t take them, you may be able to try strong (opioid) painkillers. These can be addictive, especially if taken for a long time

Date of last review: 24 July 2020

References

What painkillers are | Coping with cancer | Cancer Research UK [Internet]. Cancerresearchuk.org. 2020 [cited 24 July 2020]. Available here.

Harding D. Strong Painkillers (Opioids) [Internet]. Patient.info. 2020 [cited 24 July 2020]. Available here.

Butanis B. The Science of Addiction [Internet]. Hopkinsmedicine.org. 2020 [cited 24 July 2020]. Available here.

Content supplied byNHS Logonhs.uk
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.