Can’t beat back pain? Why pain relief medication isn’t always effective

Almost all of us will experience back pain at some point of our lives. Whether it results from lifting something heavy or spending one too many nights sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress, back pain can be extremely debilitating. Sometimes back pain only lasts a day or two, but unfortunately for some people the suffering continues for months or even years. When it comes to finding relief from back pain, many of us turn to exercise, both “standard” and CBD-infused topical pain relief treatments or massage therapy. Prescription or over-the-counter pain relief medications are also available, but these often come with unwanted side effects and, surprisingly, don’t always provide the relief you may be looking for. Here’s why.

Which drugs are commonly used for treating back pain?

When it comes to medications for back pain treatment, there are no shortage of options. Many people turn to pain relief pills containing acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. NSAIDs are available over the counter, but higher doses are also available with a prescription.

In theory, NSAIDs provide pain relief by reducing swelling and inflammation, and also reduce our perception of pain by blocking certain types of pain receptors. However, their effectiveness varies significantly from person to person. Studies suggest that only one in six individuals taking NSAIDs for back pain experiences any significant improvement in symptoms when compared to those taking a placebo.

Why are these treatments ineffective?

It’s understandable that many of us turn directly to pain relief medications when it comes to back pain. We’re looking for something that can provide a quick fix from the agony, and a lot of money is spent on advertising the efficacy of these drugs. However, because there are so many different causes of back pain, it’s unlikely for one single treatment to work for everyone.

For example, back pain caused by sciatica is nerve related and doesn’t involve inflammation, meaning that an anti-inflammatory drug like an NSAID will not provide much pain relief. Discovering the source of your back pain can really help when it comes to finding an effective treatment.

What are the risks of using back pain medication?

Not only can pain relief drugs be ineffective, but they can actually cause damage to your health. One of the dangers of NSAIDs is that they don’t provide targeted relief – their effects are felt across the body, which can result in unwanted and potentially deadly side effects. In fact, the FDA has taken several prescription NSAIDs off the market in recent years due to evidence that long-term use may pose a significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Even long-term use of lower-dose NSAIDs, such as those available over the counter, can pose similar dangers.

What’s more, it’s not only cardiovascular risks that NSAID users need to worry about. Anti-inflammatory drugs can cause severe liver problems, and have even been linked with kidney failure. The American Gastroenterological Association also estimates that NSAID use results in 16,500 deaths each year in the US, predominantly due to internal bleeding from stomach ulcers. Certain individuals should definitely think twice before taking NSAIDs, such as anyone with a history of ulcers, of advanced age, or with high blood pressure.

What are some alternative treatments for back pain?

For back pain sufferers looking to avoid medications, there is good news. There are plenty of safe, effective options that can offer back pain relief without the unwanted side effects or health concerns. Here are some of the options when it comes to natural solutions for back pain.

Massage therapy. A massage can help to increase blood flow and circulation to the muscles of the back. This provides much needed oxygen and nutrients to our back muscles and the surrounding tissue, and helps to remove waste products that have built up. Massage therapy can be particularly beneficial for back pain that is caused by tight muscles.

Topical treatments. Certain topical treatments containing natural pain-relieving ingredients such as menthol can offer effective, soothing relief from arthritis pain, and can easily be applied to the problem area. Topical creams and ointments are great for immediate relief – you don’t have to wait to schedule a massage or a visit to the chiropractor.

Exercise. Exercise is very beneficial when it comes to beating arthritis pain. Although exercise may be the last thing on your mind when your joints are aching, inactivity will just make it worse. The more you move your joints, the more you increase blood flow which can help to reduce inflammation and swelling. What’s more, exercise helps to keep you in a healthy weight range, which means you’re putting less weight on your joints whenever you move.

Although occasionally taking pain relief medication isn’t going to cause you long term health problems, there are certainly safer, effective alternatives when it comes to treating your arthritis pain.

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