NYU Langone doctors may recommend medication as a first treatment option for neck pain, though it doesn’t address the cause of the pain or prevent it from worsening. It can ease pain temporarily so you can start physical therapy and exercise, which may relieve pain in the long term.
Doctors choose a medication based on your diagnosis and symptoms.
Some neck 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 reducing inflammation. NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, all of which are available over-the-counter.
If neck pain becomes disabling and interferes with your everyday activities, a doctor may prescribe stronger medications for short-term pain relief until a muscle relaxant or an NSAID starts to work. Our doctors don’t encourage long-term use of prescription pain relievers because they may cause changes in the nervous system so that you actually perceive more pain.
Conditions such as degenerative disc disease or a herniated disc can cause neck pain. If the 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 signals sent from the nerve to the spinal muscle may be disrupted, leading to painful muscle spasms. Muscle relaxants can eliminate spasms and ease pain.
If other medications don’t relieve your pain, your doctor may recommend a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation, relieve pressure on the affected nerve, and lessen pain. Steroids are typically taken for 7 to 10 days, at which time your doctor reassesses your symptoms before recommending further treatment.
Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.