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Most cases of back pain get better within a few weeks or months; however, taking painkillers can be important for managing any pain you may be in.
There are different types of painkillers that you can take for back pain: simple painkillers and strong (opioid) painkillers.
Simple painkillers, such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help to relieve back pain.
They do not contain strong pain-killing medicines, known as opioids.
In some countries, you can buy simple painkillers directly from a pharmacy or supermarket. However, in others paracetamol and NSAIDs will need to be prescribed by a doctor or another health professional.
Paracetamol and NSAIDs aren't suitable for everyone, so check the box or leaflet to see whether you can take the medicine first. Speak to a pharmacist if you're not sure.
Applying a warm compress to your back can also provide short-term relief from pain.
You can buy heat patches from your local pharmacy, but a hot water bottle will work just as well.
If your pain doesn’t improve with simple painkillers and heat, your doctor may also prescribe a muscle relaxant or a stronger type of painkiller.
Strong painkillers usually contain a type of medicine known as an opioid. Opioids help to decrease pain by working on pain receptors in the brain and body.
They are known to be habit-forming, which means you can become dependent on them if you take them for a certain period of time.
Muscle relaxants can also cause dependency if taken for a certain period of time. This is why your doctor may only give you a short course of strong painkillers or muscle relaxants if they think you need strong pain relief.
Date of last review: 24 July 2020
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Butanis B. The Science of Addiction [Internet]. Hopkinsmedicine.org. 2020 [cited 24 July 2020]. Available here.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.