A herniated disk is one of the most common causes of lower back pain. Medications that can help include NSAIDs and prescription drugs such as corticosteroids.

A herniated disk is one of the most common causes of lower back pain, although it can occur anywhere along the spine. People may also refer to it as a ruptured, bulging, or protruding disk.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) states that pain medications do not heal a herniated disk — they can only help relieve the pain while the disk heals.

This article will cover some medications a person can take to reduce the pain associated with a herniated disk.

A person with a herniated disk sitting on the bed and placing their hand on their lower back.Share on Pinterest
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When coping with a herniated disk at home, people can take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medications help reduce pain and inflammation.

The following are NSAIDs that may help relieve pain associated with a herniated disk.

Naproxen (Aleve)

Naproxen sodium is a type of propionic acid. A person can take it to relieve the pain associated with a herniated disk.

Though dosing can vary, a typical dosage is 1–2 tablets — 220 milligrams (mg) each — every 8–12 hours. A person should not exceed 660 mg of naproxen per day.

Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil)

Ibuprofen is another type of propionic acid. People may find this medication under several brand names, including Motrin and Advil.

Though this can vary, a typical dosage is 1–2 (200-mg) tablets every 4–6 hours. A person should not exceed 1,200 mg of ibuprofen per day.

Aspirin (Bayer)

Aspirin is another common NSAID. It is made up of acetylated salicylates.

The typical dosage for aspirin is 1–2 (325-mg) tablets every 4 hours. Alternatively, a person can take 3 tablets every 6 hours. A person should not take more than 4,000 mg of aspirin per day.

Side effects of NSAIDS

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), NSAIDS can lead to:

In rare cases, they can cause more severe side effects, including allergic reactions and issues with the heart, liver, kidneys, and circulation.

Precautions to take

Although NSAIDS are usually safe to take, the following people should consult a doctor before taking them:

  • pregnant people
  • those who are trying to conceive
  • those who are nursing
  • people with asthma
  • people who have previously had an allergic reaction to NSAIDS
  • those aged over 65
  • people who have had medical conditions affecting their heart, bowels, liver, kidneys, or blood pressure

People who are taking other medications should also consult a doctor to ensure that NSAIDS will not interact with their current medications.

If a person’s pain does not go away with OTC medication or a person has severe pain, a doctor may prescribe more powerful medication.

The following are options a doctor may prescribe for pain associated with a herniated disk.

Epidural corticosteroid injections

An epidural corticosteroid injection inserts the medication directly into the spine, where it is needed. The AAOS notes that the medication reduces inflammation around the nerves in the back, which helps reduce pain.

A doctor may order an epidural corticosteroid injection if other nonsurgical options have not helped in 6 weeks.

A doctor will need to perform the injection in a medical facility. Prior to the injection, a person should follow all recommendations from the doctor.

Before placing the injection, a doctor will apply a local anesthetic to help dull the pain associated with the injection.

Side effects

A person has an increased chance of infection if they receive the injection within 3 months of surgery. A person should discuss any potential risks or concerns they may have with their doctor.

Typically, a person will not experience side effects from this injection. However, if side effects occur, they may include:

  • flushing of the chest and face
  • an increased temperature for several days
  • difficulty sleeping
  • water retention
  • anxiety
  • menstrual cycle changes
  • temporary worsening of pain

The side effects tend to go away within 1–3 days.

In rare cases, a person may develop serious side effects, including:

  • allergic reaction
  • infection
  • bleeding
  • nerve damage
  • paralysis


A person can take oral corticosteroids to help treat inflammation and pain associated with a herniated disk. A doctor may refer to these medications as glucocorticoids or steroids.

Although corticosteroids can help reduce pain and inflammation, they can also reduce the effectiveness of a person’s immune system.

For short-term treatment, a doctor will likely prescribe enough of these medications to last 7–9 days.

A person should take corticosteroids only as a doctor prescribes. They should also let the doctor know if they experience any unwanted or unusual side effects when taking the medication.

Side effects

Side effects can include:

  • increased risk of infection
  • weight gain
  • changes in blood sugar
  • changes in a person’s response to physical stress
  • increased blood pressure
  • changes to skin
  • mood changes

Medications can be expensive. A person may find it beneficial to speak with a doctor or pharmacist about lower cost medication options.

People may contact the following organizations to find medications at a lower cost:

A herniated disk can cause pain in a person’s back, most commonly in the lower back. To reduce pain associated with a herniated disk, a person can take OTC NSAIDs or prescription steroids.

Before taking any medications, a person should consult a doctor for recommendations on which ones to take. They should also follow all instructions on the packaging or from the doctor or pharmacist.