Several over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help treat pain and inflammation in the lower back, such as ibuprofen (Advil). For more severe pain, doctors may prescribe stronger drugs, including opioids.
Doctors recommend over-the-counter medications (OTC) to reduce pain and inflammation in the lower back, but they may prescribe something stronger if the pain persists.
This article outlines some common medications for lower back pain, their side effects, and dosage information. It also discusses finding help to pay for medication and complementary therapies people can try.
According to a
NSAIDs produce anti-inflammatory effects and pain relief, making them preferable to acetaminophen for treating lower back pain. However, in some cases, a doctor may recommend using both medications.
If OTC NSAIDs or acetaminophen do not relieve symptoms of neck pain, a doctor may recommend prescription-strength versions of these medications before moving on to stronger medications.
The table below outlines some medications doctors may prescribe for lower back pain.
|Generic name||Brand name||Prescription/OTC||Recommended dose||Side effects|
|Advil, Motrin||OTC||400–800 milligrams (mg) up to 3 times per day||• constipation|
• gas or bloating
• ringing in the ears
|Aleve, Anaprox||OTC||• extended release : 375, 500, and 750 mg |
• delayed release: 375 and 500 mg
• fast-acting forms: 220–550 mg
• capsule: 220 mg
• oral solution: 25 mg/milliliter (ml)
• excessive thirst
• difficulty sleeping
• burning or tingling in limbs
• cold symptoms
• ringing in the ears
• hearing problems
|Tylenol||OTC||• tablets: 325–500 mg|
• oral solution: 160 mg/5 ml
• chewable tablets: 80–160 mg
|cyclobenzaprine||Amrix, Fexmid||prescription||10–30 mg per day||• dry mouth|
• extreme tiredness
• oxycodone HCl
• hydromorphone HCl
• fentanyl patch
|various brand names||prescription||effective dose for the shortest duration needed||• addiction|
• increased pain sensitivity
• dry mouth
• hormone changes
|tramadol||Conzip, Ultram||prescription||no common dose for lower back pain||• sleepiness|
• involuntary shaking
• muscle tightness
• mood changes
• dry mouth
A doctor may recommend one or more OTC medications to treat lower back pain. These include:
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Ibuprofen is a type of NSAID. NSAIDs work by non-selectively blocking cyclooxygenase (COX) 1 and 2. Inhibiting COX prevents the creation of prostaglandins, which are involved in pain, fever, and inflammation.
Ibuprofen comes in several forms ranging from
Ibuprofen may cause side effects. If the following symptoms are severe or persist, a person should tell a doctor:
- gas or bloating
- ringing in the ears
Some side effects can be serious. If someone feels unwell or experiences unusual symptoms, they should discontinue using ibuprofen and call a doctor immediately.
Naproxen, sold under the brand name Aleve, is another form of NSAID. It works the same as ibuprofen, blocking COX-1 and -2 from producing a substance that contributes to pain, inflammation, and fever.
Naproxen comes in several forms,
- extended-release tablets: 375, 500, and 750 mg per dose
- delayed-release tablets: 375 mg and 500 mg per dose
- fast-acting tablets: 220–550 mg per dose
- capsule: 220 mg per dose
- oral solution: 25 mg/ml per dose
Naproxen may cause side effects. If the following symptoms are severe or persist, a person should tell a doctor:
- excessive thirst
- difficulty sleeping
- burning or tingling in limbs
- cold symptoms
- ringing in the ears
- hearing problems
Some side effects can be serious. If someone feels unwell or experiences unusual symptoms, they should discontinue using naproxen and call a doctor immediately.
Acetaminophen is an OTC medication sold under various brand names, such as Tylenol and Actamin. It relieves pain and reduces fever.
Children and adults can take acetaminophen, but a parent or caregiver should talk with a doctor or pharmacist before giving a child medication.
Dosing can vary based on form. Adult doses come in 325–500 mg tablets. Children’s doses are available as:
- oral solution: 160 mg/5 ml
- chewable tablets: 80–160 mg
Common side effects from acetaminophen include:
Some side effects can be serious. If someone feels unwell or experiences unusual symptoms, they should discontinue using acetaminophen and call a doctor immediately.
A doctor may recommend prescription medication if someone reports continued pain despite using OTC options. Doctors may prescribe a stronger medication as a first-line treatment. Below are examples of prescription medications doctors may prescribe for lower back pain.
Cyclobenzaprine (Amrix, Fexmid)
Cyclobenzaprine, sold under the brand names Amrix and Fexmid, is a type of muscle relaxant. As the name suggests, it helps relax the muscles, which may relieve pain in the lower back.
Though dosing may vary, a
Cyclobenzaprine may cause side effects. If the following symptoms are severe or persist, a person should tell a doctor:
- dry mouth
- extreme tiredness
Some side effects can be more serious. A person should call a doctor immediately if they feel unwell or experience unusual symptoms.
Opioids are a strong class of medication that doctors prescribe for pain relief. Examples include:
- oxycodone HCl
- morphine sulfate
- hydromorphone HCl
- fentanyl patch
Experts do not fully agree on the use of opioids. In a
According to the researchers, doctors should only consider opioids for severe pain that does not respond to other medications. Dosing should be the lowest possible effective dose and generally not exceed
Possible side effects can include:
- misuse or addiction
- physical dependence
- imminent concerns of death
- increased pain sensitivity
- dry mouth
- hormone changes
Tramadol (Conzip, Ultram)
Tramadol, sold under the brand names Conzip and Ultram, is a type of prescription pain medication. Like traditional opioids, it helps block nerve receptors in the brain and central nervous system.
Tramadol may cause side effects. If the following symptoms are severe or persist, a person should tell a doctor:
- involuntary shaking
- muscle tightness
- mood changes
- dry mouth
Other prescription medications can help treat lower back pain. Doctors may prescribe them if other medications are not working or to help treat an underlying condition.
However, a doctor may try additional medications for lower back pain based on their experience and the person’s needs.
Medications, particularly prescription strengths, can be expensive even with insurance. If a person needs help paying for medications, one of the following organizations may help them reduce their costs:
|Organization||What they do||Number|
|ConnectiveRx||aerie savings card||1-844-807-9706|
|Medicare||prescription drug plans||1-800-633-4227|
|Eagle Pharmacy (EyeRx Direct)||patient assistance programs||1-844-813-3864|
|PAN Foundation||patient assistance programs||1-866-316-7263|
|Blink Health||prescription drug discounts||1-833-844-9621|
|NeedyMeds||patient assistance programs||1-800-503-6897|
|RxHope||patient assistance programs||—|
|Medicine Assistance Tool||prescription assistance service||571-350-8643|
|PharmacyChecker||compare prescription drug prices||—|
|RxOutreach||patient assistance programs||1-888-796-1234|
Medications can help reduce pain and inflammation, but a person may also benefit from complementary treatments, including:
People may also find relief from applying hot and cold treatments directly to their lower back. In some cases, light exercise, such as yoga or stretching, may also help improve lower back pain.
Several prescription and OTC options are available to help treat lower back pain. Most doctors consider NSAIDs the first line of treatment, but they may recommend other options if they are ineffective.
Medications for mild back pain include ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen. More severe pain may require stronger medications, such as opioids, cyclobenzaprine, and tramadol.
A person should talk with a doctor if they have back pain that lasts longer than a few days. A doctor may be able to diagnose what is causing the pain. They may also recommend additional treatment options.