What Is the Best Pain Reliever For Back Pain?

November 13, 2023

Tylenol, Aspirin, Advil…what is the best for back pain relief?

As it turns out, the best pain reliever for back pain isn’t what you’d expect.


Your spine is incredible. It’s responsible for bearing your weight, protecting your spinal cord, holding your ribs in place to protect your heart and lungs, and remaining flexible enough to allow you to move.

But most people don’t give their spines a second thought…unless, that is, they’re feeling back pain.

An estimated 80% of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. And most of those people will turn to an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication for quick relief.

What is the best pain reliever for back pain? And are medications really the best option?


Best Pain Reliever For Back Pain

When those first pain signals surface, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often the drug of choice.

NSAIDs—such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen—are some of the most popular pain medications. The way NSAIDs work is by blocking an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which prevents your body from making prostaglandin, a chemical which causes inflammation.

Reduce the inflammation and you reduce pain as well.

woman at desk holding back

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) isn’t an anti-inflammatory, but it is commonly used to treat pain and fevers. Experts aren’t entirely sure how it works, but it’s believed to block the same enzyme that NSAIDs do.

All things considered, the best pain reliever for back pain is the one that allows you to resume your everyday activities with the least amount of side effects. All pain medications (even over-the-counter ones) come with a risk of unpleasant side effects, ranging from indigestion to liver and kidney damage.

For example, ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) can cause stomach ulcers if you take higher doses, especially in a short time period or on an empty stomach. While acetaminophen (Tylenol) is easier on your stomach, too much can cause liver damage.

But what if you’ve been taking steady doses for weeks and the pain isn’t getting any better? Should you switch to something stronger?



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Sometimes, even the strongest “extra strength” over-the-counter pill isn’t enough to dull your pain. That’s when people (doctors included) tend to escalate to muscle relaxants and prescription opioids. But this often causes more problems than it solves.

Opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl—are a highly regulated class of drug. Rather than telling your body not to produce pain, they tell it not to feel pain. Opioids work by blocking pain receptors in the brain and inducing a feeling of happiness and calm.

pills spilling from prescription bottle

Highly effective? Yes. But you won’t be doing your body any favors.

If used long term, opioids can wreak havoc on your body. You may suffer from constipation, nausea, dizziness/vertigo, drowsiness, depression, and anxiety…and these are just the minor symptoms! The biggest problem with opioids is that they are incredibly addictive.

It starts with your body developing a tolerance to the drug, which means you need more of it to feel the same benefits. You begin to take higher and higher doses, desperate for pain relief. Left unchecked, you may even take such high doses that your body stops breathing.

Opioids can be a helpful tool at relieving short-term (or acute) low back pain after a surgery or traumatic injury. But for chronic low back pain, it’s better to step away from the pill bottle.


The Best Medicine for Back Pain Is to Solve the Problem…Not the Symptom!

Your throbbing back might disagree, but pain is actually helpful.

Pain is your body’s way of alerting you that there’s a problem. The inflammation is caused by increased blood flow, which is how your body helps heal injured tissue. The pain you feel is a reminder to stop and let your back get some rest.

Even the best pain reliever for back pain can only mask your symptoms.

By continually popping pain medication, you’re ignoring that alarm that says “Something’s wrong!” In fact, by ridding yourself of the pain, you’re more likely to injure your back further.

For instance, say you tripped while hiking one weekend and broke your wrist. If you take the right combination of pills, you wouldn’t be able to feel a thing. But there isn’t a drug in the world that can reset your bones.

Further, pain medication doesn’t give you any clues as to the cause of your pain. If your pain is due to a pinched sciatic nerve, an anti-inflammatory won’t relieve that pressure. If your issue is a misalignment of the vertebrae, an opioid isn’t going to correct it.


How To Relieve Back Pain

Luckily, there’s a better alternative: chiropractic care.

Chiropractors specialize in diagnosing and treating joint misalignments that can put pressure on the nerves, muscles, and other soft tissues. By restoring your spine and other joints to their proper alignment, the offending symptoms (stiffness, tingling, numbness, and pain) will be dramatically reduced or even eliminated.

In clinical trials, chiropractic care has even been shown to be effective at treating certain medical conditions, such as sciatica, chronic headaches, and more.

For trigger points and other forms of muscle pain, chiropractors can also refer you to a medical massage therapist to provide more comprehensive care.

Addressing the problem at its source will not only treat back pain effectively, it will make NSAIDs, opioids, and other pain medications unnecessary.

doctor holding spine model next to patient's back

True, Lasting Back Pain Relief

Back pain is more than an annoyance, it’s a symptom that there is something wrong. And while pain pills might stop you from feeling discomfort, they can’t heal you.

Chiropractic adjustments and regular spinal care, on the other hand, will keep your back in tip-top shape so that you no longer have to suffer the harmful side effects of OTC pain meds.

Many people wait until they have been in a car accident or another type of severe trauma before seeing a chiropractor. But seemingly innocuous activities (like sitting at a desk for eight hours a day) can be extremely hard on your back.

Don’t wait for your back pain to get better on its own. Schedule an appointment at Oviedo Chiropractic so that we can get to the root of your back pain and provide you with lasting relief.

Justin Cough

Dr. Justin Cough, D.C.

Dr. Cough graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Port Orange, FL after receiving his BS in Education from SUNY Oswego. Before becoming a chiropractor, he coached many middle and high school sports teams including football, lacrosse, basketball, and soccer. He is passionate about focusing on our bodies' natural healing mechanisms and helping his patients enjoy the utmost sustainability in their lives.

For some, chiropractic offers relief from pain. For others, it's about feeling and looking good. Call today and see what chiropractic can do for you!

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