How to choose the right painkillers to relieve your back pain

How to choose the right painkillers to relieve your back pain


Looking for the right painkillers to relieve your back pain? 
Whether it’s the consequence of remote working, or you’re simply seeking an alternative treatment option for a long-standing condition, you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we’ll suggest a range of painkillers so you can choose which treatment option is best for your symptoms.

Types of back pain


Non-specific and mechanical 

Sometimes, it’s not possible to identify a cause for your back pain - this is known as ‘non-specific’ or ‘mechanical’ if the pain is in your joints or bones.
With these types of back pain, you may notice that it:

  • Gets better or worse depending on your position
  • Feels worse when moving
  • Develops gradually or suddenly
  • Flares up due to poor posture or lifting something awkwardly
  • Occurs when you’re feeling stressed or run down
  • Gets better in a few weeks


Medical conditions

Alternatively, your back pain may be the result of a medical condition, such as:

  • A slipped disc
  • Sciatica
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Spondylolisthesis

It’s important to note that these conditions are treated differently than non-specific back pain.
It’s quite rare, but your back pain might be a sign of:

  • A broken bone in the spine
  • An infection
  • Cauda equina syndrome
  • Certain cancers



Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

This is the name of a group of medicines that relieve pain and reduce inflammation, and are usually recommended for mild to moderate back pain.
NSAIDs are a common solution for back pain, but they may not be suitable for everyone.
Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist before deciding to take NSAIDs if you:

  • Are over 65 years of age
  • Are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant
  • Are breastfeeding
  • Have been diagnosed with asthma
  • Have had an allergic reaction to NSAIDs
  • Have ever had a stomach ulcer
  • Have heart, liver, kidney, blood pressure, circulation, or bowel problems
  • Are taking any other medication
  • If you are under 16 

The main types of NSAIDs you may be offered are ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac.
You can pick up some of these medicines yourself, like ibuprofen, but others are stronger and you’ll need to speak to a doctor or pharmacist first to decide whether it’s right for you.
Although they all have similar effects, we’re all different so you might find that one works better than the other.



If NSAIDs haven’t helped your back pain, your healthcare provider might offer you codeine, which can be used to treat long-standing pain when other painkillers haven’t worked.
Codeine works by stopping the pain signals in their tracks before they reach the brain, but be careful - codeine can be addictive, so always take it as your doctor or pharmacist advises.  
Codeine isn’t suitable for everyone, so make sure you tell your doctor if you have:


  • Had an allergic reaction to codeine or other medicines
  • A lung problem
  • A head injury
  • Adrenal gland problems
  • Seizures
  • An alcohol addiction
  • An underactive thyroid
  • Kidney or liver problems
  • Gallstones
  • An enlarged prostate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Colitis
  • Myasthenia gravis

Alternatively, you can buy weaker-strength codeine from your pharmacy that will be mixed with another medicine such as paracetamol, aspirin, or ibuprofen.

Muscle relaxants

Tense, spasming muscles could be the underlying cause of your back pain.
Muscle relaxants are pretty self-explanatory - they help the muscles relax, which in turn can relieve your discomfort.
Muscle relaxants are best used along with rest and physical therapy, and will usually be prescribed short-term for acute pain.
An example of a muscle relaxant is diazepam, but this may not be a good option if you drive or use heavy machinery as it’s very common to become drowsy.

There are lots of different painkillers out there that could help to soothe your back pain, or you might be leaning towards an alternative treatment option such as physiotherapy or exercise.
If you’re working from home, your environment could be causing your back pain.
Be conscious of your posture, make sure your screen is eye level, that your keyboard is close, and invest in a good chair (dining chairs aren’t made for very long sittings!) 
If you’re struggling with back pain, it’s important to speak to your GP or visit the NHS website for further advice on how to manage your symptoms.


Alexandra Moses - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 15 March 2023
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