At some point in life, there is a high likelihood that the average person will experience nagging back pain. Most likely, your reading this because you are one of them and considering seeking out pain management doctors to help.

The most common reaction to this problem is to take over-the-counter (OTC) back pain medication. Many people find relief this way. However, contrary to thousands of advertising claims, over-the-counter pain medication is not a panacea treatment for back pain, particularly when it involves chronic back pain. There are limitations. It is important that consumers understand what over-the-counter back pain medications can and can’t do.

Types of OTC Painkillers & How They Work

There are two main types of non-prescription medications for back pain that you might consider using before looking for pain management doctors:

  1. Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
  2. Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Some people use NSAID topical agents in the form of deep heating rubs. Advil, Motrin, and Aleve are popular NSAID brands. This group includes aspirin, ibuprofen, magnesium salicylate, and naproxen sodium and can provide relief from back pain by reducing inflammation. NSAIDs do this by blocking the Cox enzymes. These enzymes produce inflammation-promoting chemical compounds called prostaglandins.

On the other hand, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is an analgesic. This drug restricts the synthesis of prostaglandins. It is not known how the drug does this. Acetaminophen reduces pain by raising the pain threshold. In other words, pain must rise to a greater level before a person feels it. It is like lowering the sensitivity of a car alarm. Essentially, acetaminophen relieves back pain by masking the underlying problem.

Advantages of OTC Back Pain Medications

American consumers have become accustomed to self-treating pain with readily available non-prescription drugs before seeking the help of professional pain management doctors. The drug companies make consumers aware of which medications work best for each ailment. Using internet sources, a person can research a particular health symptom and its available OTC remedies. Of course, there are positive aspects of self-treatment:

  • These drugs can provide immediate relief with a simple application.
  • They are easily accessible in pharmacies and grocery stores at any time of the day or night.
  • These drugs are relatively safe for short-term use.
  • They reduce medical cost by cutting down on doctor’s visits.
over the counter drugs on shelves in pharmacy

Disadvantages of OTC Back Pain Medications

In this easy drug dispensary environment, it is important for consumers to be aware of the substances they put in their bodies. Ignoring the potential dangers these drugs pose could lead to dire consequences. While pain management doctors are highly trained experts, the average person might not fully understand the scope of how OTC medications could affect their pain and bodies in the long run.

Here are 4 reasons why these OTC medications are limited, and why they could cause harm.

1. NSAIDs are not effective against treating sciatica according to pain management doctors.

Jesse Bible, MD, is an orthopedic spine surgeon at Penn State Health, Milton S Hershey Medical Center. In a recent article in, Dr. Bible said, “Back pain caused by arthritis is inflammatory, but sciatica isn’t.” He adds, “If you’re popping pain meds and not getting relief, the first thing you should do is figure out what’s causing the pain.”

Pain management doctors such as the providers at MidSouth Pain Treatment Center can help you identify the root cause of your pain and find a treatment course to meet your needs.

2. The Federal Food and Drug Administration warns that NSAIDs increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

These conditions can develop within the first few weeks of use. High or prolonged doses of this drug significantly increase the risk of heart disease. NSAIDs thin the blood. So, the FDA advises people who are taking prescribed blood thinners to avoid these drugs.

Also, the American Gastroenterological Association points out that NSAID use results in over 100,000 hospitalizations and 16,500 deaths in this country annually. The main cause is bleeding stomach ulcers. NSAIDs cause more than half the reported ulcers. In addition, long-term use may lead to heart, liver and blood pressure problems.

Because topical NSAID agents do not affect the whole body, they offer a lower risk of adverse side effects. Regardless, health authorities recommend that NSAIDs should never be taken more than ten days.

3. Large doses of acetaminophen can cause liver failure and possible death.

Pharmacy Times cited studies that show long term, high doses of this drug have been associated with GI bleeding, heart attack, kidney disease and high blood pressure. For this reason, acetaminophen is not a good option for treating chronic back pain. It is best to follow the dosage recommendation on the label and not exceed the recommended dosage period. In addition, Acetaminophen does not reduce inflammation and as a result, is less therapeutic than NSAIDs.

The FDA is concerned about the rise in unintentional overdoses of acetaminophen. Primarily, this mishap occurs when patients consume more than one product containing acetaminophen. This is partly due to the fact that many consumers regard OTC medications as being completely safe, regardless of the dosage amount. This can be a tragic mistake

4. Incorrect self-diagnosis can lead patients to overuse OTC medications without properly treating their pain.

One of the major risks with over-the-counter medications is erroneous self-diagnosis. The average person often lacks the in-depth knowledge of OTC medications that pain management doctors have studied thoroughly. This could result in serious illness or bad effects of drug-drug interactions.

pain management doctors speaking to patient about over the counter medications

Finding Pain Management Doctors Near Me: The Best Way to Effectively Deal with Chronic Back Pain

OTC medications can provide relief from many occurrences of back pain. However, back pain lasting more than a month requires the attention of qualified pain management doctors. There is no single treatment for back pain. The best course of action is to deal with each case of chronic back pain on an individual basis.

The pain management doctors and staff at Midsouth Pain Treatment Center are capable and prepared to effectively treat people with chronic back pain. Whether the underlying cause is arthritis, sacroiliitis, degenerative disc disease, or radiculopathy, these professionals use the latest in technology and research to offer long-term pain-relieving solutions.