How Does Chronic Back Pain Medication Work?

Severe back pain, when left unattended, can interfere with an individual’s healing process as it can affect the immune system and trigger other undesirable results. In such cases, it is advised to get help from chronic back pain medication to treat the discomfort before it starts to impede exercise, cause sleep difficulties, or contribute to the risk of psychological distress.

Broadly speaking, such pain relievers can be divided into three different categories. While all forms may work differently, each works to decrease the associated pain and reduce muscle spasms in sufferers.

  • Oral pain medications

These medications are taken by mouth in either pill, tablet, capsule or liquid form.

In most cases, the first chronic back pain medication choice for people is an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID. These drugs work by blocking the production of certain body chemicals that cause inflammation. They work like steroids but without many of the effects of steroids.

Depending on the NSAID and the condition being treated, some drugs may work within a few hours while others may take a week or two before delivering results.

For instance, acute muscle injuries require the use of NSAIDs that work quickly and may need to be taken every four to six hours. Other conditions that need long-term treatment use drugs that only need to be administered once or twice a day.

Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen are the most common types. While most can be purchased without a prescription, NSAIDs with stronger doses may only be available by prescription.

  • Topical pain medications

These products are applied directly to the skin and work by reducing localized pain. For instance, they can be suitable for seeking relief from a sore muscle or from an arthritic joint.

Some topical applications are anti-inflammatory in nature while others act as muscle relaxants. Anti-inflammatory topical medications help ease muscle pains, sprains, and strains. They are available as creams, gels, gel patches, ointments, sprays or foams.

When applied to the skin, anti-inflammatory topical medications work in the same manner as oral NSAIDs, but instead of affecting the entire body, they only work in the area where applied. They get absorbed into the skin and then penetrate deeper to treat inflammation.

Muscle relaxants, on the other hand, have a sedative effect on the body. They work through the brain rather than directly on the muscles. Muscle relaxants for back pain are used to treat muscle spasms when a single muscle or a group of muscles tighten up suddenly. The discomfort may be caused by lifting a heavy object or twisting the body.

  • Injections

The third option for back pain management is the epidural steroid injection. This option uses pain-relieving medication or anti-inflammatory medication injected directly to the source of the pain.

It is considered a nominally invasive procedure which can assist in relieving back pain triggered by inflamed spinal nerves. The injected steroid may be a fast-acting local anesthetic used for temporary pain relief. Or, it may be a longer lasting medication, used to correct pain associated with a long-term back condition.

Injections are also administered for treating conditions with nerve compressions such as sciatica or spinal stenosis.