Back Pain Medication
Pills are the most popular form of treatment when it comes to low back pain medication. Yet, according to a US survey, no prescription drug was significantly more useful than a placebo. (A placebo is a pill or treatment with no active ingredients or known medical value, but that nevertheless helps some of the patients who receive it.) And, of course, the harmful effects of prescription drugs can far outweigh those of placebos.
This doesn’t mean that you should refuse to follow your doctor’s advice about taking this type of lower back pain medication. It is to say, however, that you should carefully consider which medicines you decide to take on a regular basis, and whether or not their benefits outweigh the side-effects they sometimes cause.
Back pain medication used to be over-prescribed for this type of ailment. For years, patients who went to a doctor wanted to come away with something concrete – and that something was a prescription. But this attitude seems to have changed. A survey conducted by researchers associated with Johns Hopkins Hospital found that
patients who did not receive prescriptions reported more satisfaction with their visits to physicians than patients who did receive prescriptions. Patients may not be as prescription-oriented as many physicians believe.
Judging from the experiences of these survey participants, the most important point is to match the strength of the analgesic to the level of pain, thus enabling you to avoid using stronger painkillers, which are likely to cause more side-effects. However, you should also use this type of back pain medication early on, before high pain levels set in. (This will help you avoid taking large quantities of painkillers later on, when the increased pain has already started and it is too late for the medication to reduce it significantly.)
One survey respondent, said:
Learn intelligent use of painkillers/anti-inflammatories. Take with food, take before pain is intense, use moderately, not dependently.
Occasional short courses of Diclofenac tablets for periods of greater discomfort. Anne, another participant, found that back pain medication enabled her to continue leading a relatively normal life, and had this advice for fellow back pain sufferers:
If they help, take them. If you haven’t been prescribed anything, ask your GP for Solpadol or something similar (prescription strength co-codamol, 30/500, much more effective than over-the-counter back pain medication). I went 3 months before another back pain sufferer told me about this, and my GP was happy to prescribe it, but hadn’t thought to suggest it herself!!
Decent painkillers can make the difference between a good and bad night’s sleep, and if you haven’t slept well you’re tense and ache-more next day, which means you’re even less likely to sleep the following night – and a vicious circle is set up. They can help you maintain your social life (e.g. an evening out at the theatre) by reducing your pain sufficiently to prevent it being a distraction. They can also help you return to work.
And Catherine, another survey respondent, tells a familiar tale that also illustrates an important point about the way pain systems in the body work: “I’m sure that other people will have had my situation: I had seen two different physios and was a mystery to my doctor because I was experiencing very severe pain and yet no one could find anything wrong with me other than bog-standard mechanical back pain. I spent a tot of time researching and reading up on the Internet, and couldn’t find an explanation for myself. None of the anti-inflammatories or analgesics I was taking could reduce my pain from unbearable on the bad days.
I was signed off work and just getting worse and worse until I asked for a second opinion from the Physio Department at my hospital. I was referred to an Extended Scope Practitioner who, rather than treating me or manipulating me, educated me about my condition and how to overcome it myself (and how the problem could be tackled in my approach as much as what I was doing physically).
She was the first person to give me a real answer about what was going on – that my problem related to the tissues attached to one of my lumbar facet joints and that the inflammation had made the nerves very sensitized, hence the reason I was experiencing such acute pain. She was a life-saver . . .
The intense local pain I felt was accompanied by a great deal of heat both locally and throughout my body. I also felt sick and headachey. On good days, it felt as though I had a deep cut inside my tissue, running along a 6- to 8-inch area. A full dose of Celebrex and Co-codamol only dulled it slightly.
I now know that nerves can become very sensitized by disruption to normal service, such as long-term inflammation. This is not the same as nerve pain, but causes a very similar kind of pain and can be treated the same way. Once my doctor knew this, he could prescribe anutrypuline, which turned my life around at the time.”
Guidance given by health professionals on the use of back pain medication can also significantly affect the outcome for the patient. For instance, those people who follow advice about taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication with food are much less likely to suffer gastric problems as a side-effect.
Most medicines have some side-effects – and back pain medications are no different – but people experience them to differing extents. If you find the side-effects of your back pain medication particularly unpleasant, it may be well worth reducing your dose or even stopping entirely. However, you should always consult your doctor or back pain specialist first.