Best OTC Medicine for Lower Back Pain

Posted by Avron Anstey on

According to the NIH, 80% of adults will experience lower back pain during their lifetime. It can be very debilitating and is often a common cause of disability in people under the age of 45.

A common misconception that people make is thinking that pain medication can cure back injury, but that is completely wrong. The main purpose of pain meds is to decrease the pain, while you try to find the underlying cause and fix it or to give time for the body to heal. 

Fortunately, there are over the counter medication for back pain that can help alleviate the symptoms so you can survive the rest of the day. 

Here are some insights on what you can expect from these types of medications.

Over the Counter Medication for Lower Back Pain

The common issue with back pain is the process of inflammation. This happens when the back experiences some trauma that results in elevated cytokine, ESR, and dilation of a blood vessel that leads to tissue swelling and increased blood flow.

All of this signifies the way that the body reacts towards trauma. However, it can lead to significant back pain, irritation, soreness, and stiffness. Fortunately, over-the-counter medication focuses on stopping the inflammatory process.

The common OTC medications are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as Motrin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Other types of drugs are acetaminophen or Tylenol if patients are unable to take NSAIDs.

Aside from oral medication, there are also pads such as Thermacare that provides a relaxing and warm sensation to stop spasm and contraction.

There is also an OTC topical agent like rubefacient that does wonders to alleviate pain. This is a topical agent where the patient can apply it directly to their back. The agent provides either a burning or cooling sensation to reduce the pain. The main ingredient of rubefacient is capsaicin which originates from the chili pepper. Once the skin absorbs the capsaicin, it provides a numbing sensation that interferes with the pain signals from the brain. This makes it in excellent anesthetic agent to reduce pain.


The Side Effects of Over the Counter Medications

When it comes to pain medication for the lower back, there are some side effects to keep in mind. NSAIDs are known for G.I. bleeding and ulcers, so if you experience some abdominal pain after using NSAID, then it’s best to stop and try some other alternative. Usually, people who cannot handle NSAIDs will consider acetaminophen instead.

Acetaminophen does not erode the stomach but it may cause some damage to the liver. If you take a high dosage of acetaminophen, then it’s best to pay attention to your liver. If you experience pain in the right upper quadrant where your liver is located, then it’s essential to see the doctor and have a blood test. If the blood test shows elevated liver enzymes, that means it’s time to stop acetaminophen or to take a lower dosage. 

Keep in mind that if you are taking either NSAID or acetaminophen, it’s best to limit your alcohol and coffee intake. These substances can increase stomach erosion or harm the liver.


What Causes Back Pain?

Back pain has various causes. The most common one is when you lift something heavy and it results in a back spasm or sprain. If you sleep in the wrong position, your back can experience some tenderness. Athletes often experience back pain because of high-intensity sports. These types of cases can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication, steroid injections, massages, or physical therapy.

However, there are back pains that are malignant such as a tumor, infection, neuropathy, or other underlying medical conditions. That is why it’s important to consult a physician if the pain persists despite OTC and other lifestyle modifications.

Alternative Ways to Reduce Back Pain

Aside from OTC, there are alternative ways to reduce back pain. Here are some ways to alleviate back pain.


Physical Therapy

With physical therapy, you can perform some exercises to improve posture, improve range of motion, and increase flexibility, therefore, reducing back pain.



Massages can relax the muscles and reduce the tension to decrease back pain.


Acupuncture needles can stimulate the release of endorphins to relax the muscle to alleviate the pain signals.



Yoga is a fantastic activity to lose weight and stretch your back to improve posture and flexibility. Daily yoga routine has been shown to decrease back pain and improve range of motion for arthritis patients. 


When to See a Doctor

If you still have persistent back pain after some lifestyle modification like yoga, relaxation techniques, physical therapy, and OTC medication, then it’s time to see a doctor. There could be a risk of infection or tumor that may require IV antibiotics and radiation therapy, respectively.

If your doctor diagnosed a slipped disc or narrowing of the spine called spinal stenosis from an MRI, then you may require corticosteroid injection or possibly surgery. If the doctor observes neuropathy, then you will need prescription medication like gabapentin or TCA to block the pain signals.

The most common red flags to look out for are back pain with a numb or tingling sensation shooting down the leg. These are usually caused by compression of the spinal nerve that may require an MRI to diagnose and corticosteroid injection for treatment. Usually, tumors, slipped disk, and spinal stenosis can result in these compressions.



Keep in mind that back pain can be caused by tumor compression, neuropathy, or infection. The doctor will have to do a physical exam to diagnose you. If the issue is a tumor, you may need to have radiation therapy, if it’s an infection, then IV antibiotics might be the treatment of choice. 

However, if there are other issues such as slipped disc or spinal stenosis, then you may need a corticosteroid injection to reduce the inflammation. Whatever the case is, it’s essential to consult your doctor if the pain is not improving.

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