Our doctors usually prescribe medication as the first option for treating back pain. Though it doesn’t address the cause of the pain, medication can temporarily ease discomfort so that you can start a physical therapy or exercise program, which can relieve pain in the long term.
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NYU Langone doctors assess the type of medication you need based on your diagnosis and description of pain.
Some back pain may be due to inflammation in the discs of the spine and the surrounding nerves and joints. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) alleviate pain by targeting the inflammation. The most common NSAIDs are ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, all of which are available over the counter at a drugstore.
If back pain becomes disabling and interferes with your everyday activities, a doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications for short-term use until a muscle relaxant or an NSAID starts to work. Our doctors do not encourage long-term use of prescription pain relievers, which may change the nervous system so that you actually perceive more pain.
Certain conditions, such as degenerative disc disease or a herniated disc, can also cause back pain by affecting how the nerves work. If a disc between vertebrae slips out of place and pinches a nerve root, or if bone spurs press against nerve roots or the spinal cord, the electrical signals sent from nerve to muscle may be disrupted, leading to painful muscle spasms. Muscle relaxants can eliminate spasms and ease pain.
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If other medications don’t relieve your pain, a doctor may recommend corticosteroid medication to reduce inflammation in an affected nerve and ease pain. Steroids are typically taken by mouth for 7 to 10 days, at which time your doctor reassesses your symptoms before recommending additional treatment.
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