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What is the best prescription medicine for lower back pain?

Andrew Bellingham

Andrew Bellingham

Pharmacist | 20+ Years | BPharm | Dip Clin Pharm

Lower back pain is incredibly common, affecting up to 80% of people at some point in their lives. It can be caused by muscle strain, structural issues, poor posture, or injuries.

It can disrupt your daily life, making even simple tasks challenging. That’s why finding the right medicine is important. These medicines offer targeted relief from pain and inflammation, helping you get back on your feet.

What is the best prescription medicine for back pain?

When it comes to managing back pain, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Different medications target different aspects of pain and inflammation, and what works best for one person may not be as effective for another.

From over-the-counter painkillers to prescription medications and opioids, we’ll examine their benefits and potential side effects, so you can (along with your GP or pharmacist) make informed decisions to improve your back pain.

Over-the-counter painkillers

When you’re dealing with lower back pain, over-the-counter painkillers can often be your first step. These medicines are easy to find at pharmacies and supermarkets without needing a prescription, making them handy for easing mild to moderate back pain.

The most common types of painkillers for lower back pain include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, as well as paracetamol.

NSAIDs work by reducing inflammation, which can help ease swelling and discomfort in your lower back. Paracetamol, on the other hand, targets pain signals in your brain to lessen the feeling of pain without tackling inflammation directly.

While these painkillers can be effective for mild to moderate lower back pain, it’s important to use them as directed and be aware of potential side effects. NSAIDs can irritate your stomach lining and increase the risk of bleeding, especially with long-term use. Paracetamol, if taken excessively, can harm your liver.

Prescription painkillers

When over-the-counter painkillers aren’t enough for your lower back pain, prescription options may help. These medications are stronger and need a doctor’s prescription.

Prescription painkillers for lower back pain come in three main types: NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, and opioids (which will be covered in the next section). 

Prescription NSAIDs: these are stronger versions of the painkillers you can buy without a prescription. They help reduce inflammation and pain but may have more side effects, like stomach issues and higher blood pressure.

Muscle relaxants: if muscle spasms are adding to your discomfort, muscle relaxants might help. They target the muscles directly, easing tension and pain. But they can make you drowsy or dizzy, so be careful, especially if you need to drive or use machinery.

It’s important to work with your doctor when considering prescription painkillers for lower back pain. They can figure out which medication and dosage are best for you, considering your condition and any other health concerns you have.


When lower back pain gets really bad and other treatments aren’t cutting it, opioids might be an option. These strong painkillers work by blocking pain signals in your brain and spine.

Opioids are usually used for a short time or as a last resort because they can be addictive and dangerous if not used carefully. They include drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine.

While opioids can be helpful for severe pain, they come with risks. Using them for a long time can lead to needing more and more to get relief, and they can cause side effects like constipation, drowsiness, and nausea.

Frequently asked questions about back pain medicines

What are the side effects of taking opioids for lower back pain?

Side effects of taking opioids for lower back pain include constipation, drowsiness, nausea, and the risk of dependence.

How do muscle relaxants help with lower back pain?

Muscle relaxants help reduce lower back pain by targeting muscle spasms directly, reducing tension and discomfort.

What are the risks of long-term use of NSAIDs for lower back pain?

Long-term use of NSAIDs for lower back pain can increase the risk of gastrointestinal issues, high blood pressure, and kidney problems.

A man in his 60s holds his lower back in pain while being supported by a woman of a similar age.

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