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Medications for Low Back Pain and Sciatica
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Medications for Low Back Pain and Sciatica

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The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your healthcare provider if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your healthcare provider, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your health care provider.

Medications are used to control symptoms of low back pain and sciatica. The medications are listed by their generic name with some frequent brands names included in parentheses.

Prescription Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)

  • Naproxen sodium (Naprosyn)
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin)
  • Diclofenac sodium (Voltaren)

Analgesics (pain medication)

  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone

Antidepressants

  • Amitriptyline (Elavil)

Muscle relaxants

  • Carisoprodol (Soma)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril)

Over-the-Counter Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)

  • Naproxen sodium (Aleve)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, Motrin-Ib)

Analgesics (pain medication)

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Aspirin (Bayer)

Prescription Medications

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)

Common names include:

  • Naproxen sodium (Naprosyn)
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin)
  • Diclofenac sodium (Voltaren)

These drugs work to control inflammation, which produces pain. Some prescription NSAIDs are higher doses of the same NSAIDs that are available without a prescription.

Possible side effects include:

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Stomach upset
  • Fluid retention
  • Liver damage

Some prescription NSAIDs (eg, Celebrex, Vioxx) have been associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Other studies show that some NSAIDs may cause complications in patients recovering from stroke, heart attacks, or open heart surgery. NSAIDs can also interfere with the actions of other drugs. Be certain your physician is aware of all drugs you take, including herbs and supplements (even if you only take these occasionally).

Analgesics

Common names include:

  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone

Prescription pain pills may be prescribed short term for severe pain.

Possible side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation

Antidepressants

Common names include:

  • Amitriptyline (Elavil)

Antidepressants have pain-relieving abilities and are sometimes given to patients with chronic pain. They may improve your pain threshold and help you sleep. Do not stop taking these drugs without checking with your doctor.

Possible side effects include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness when standing up

Muscle Relaxants

Common names include:

  • Carisoprodol (Soma)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril)

Muscle relaxants help calm muscle spasms. They may be ordered for short-term pain relief.

Possible side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness

Over-the-Counter Medications

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)

Common names include:

  • Naproxen sodium (Aleve)
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin)
  • Aspirin (Bayer)

These drugs work to control inflammation, which produces pain.

Possible side effects include:

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Stomach upset
  • Liver damage
  • Fluid retention
  • Interaction with other drugs, including ACE inhibitors, blood thinners, and drugs to treat hypertension. Check with your physician to be certain that NSAIDs will not interact with other drugs you might be taking.

Acetaminophen

Common brand names include:

  • Tylenol

Acetaminophen relieves minor pain. It does not treat the inflammation that may be a part of low back pain. It can cause liver problems if taken with alcohol. Do not drink alcohol while taking this drug. Do not take more than the recommended dose. Acetaminophen is unlikely to cause side effects associated with other pain medications.

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

More serious symptoms associated with back pain that may require immediate medical attention include:

  • Pain that doesn't improve, or worsens, with rest
  • Pain that is severe or that has gotten dramatically worse
  • Progressive weakness in a leg or foot
  • Difficulty walking, standing, or moving
  • Numbness in the genital or rectal area
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Burning or difficulty with urination
  • Fever, unexplained weight loss, or other signs of illness

Special Considerations

Whenever you are taking a prescription medication, take the following precautions:

  • Take them as directed—not more, not less, not at a different time.
  • Do not stop taking them without consulting your health care provider.
  • Don’t share them with anyone else.
  • Know what effects and side effects to expect, and report them to your healthcare provider.
  • If you are taking more than one drug, even if it is over-the-counter, be sure to check with a physician or pharmacist about drug interactions.
  • Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.

References:

Conn's Current Therapy 2001 . 53rd edition. W.B. Saunders Company; 2001.

Mosby’s Drug Consult. Mosby Inc.; 2002.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/ .

Textbook of Primary Care Medicine . 3rd edition. Mosby, Inc.; 2001.



Last reviewed February 2007 by Barbara Harty-Golder, MD, JD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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