Back pain


Back pain is the most common type of chronic pain in America. Your pain may affect everything you do, from sitting, walking, and standing to simply getting a good night's sleep.

Treating back pain

It can be tempting to treat your back pain with nothing but rest. But for most people, the best thing you can do is keep moving and continue doing normal activities at your own pace.

Back pain photoYour doctor may give advice on how to change the way you move or how to gradually return to activity. Be sure to ask your doctor about any concerns you may have about activity or movement. (See more ways to prevent further back injury.)


Pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs can be helpful in reducing muscle soreness and joint problems in your spine. Creams and ointments like capsaicin can be effective for mild pain.

Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter medicines for mild to moderate pain, such as naproxen (Aleve), ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or aspirin. These drugs all work in slightly different ways.

For severe back pain, your doctor may write a prescription. Depending on the cause of your pain, it might be a medication to reduce inflammation, relax muscles, and/or help you sleep. It is important to consider the purpose, the benefits and risks (side-effects), how long you should take the medication, and any questions you may have about the medication.

Alternative therapy

Back pain can be helped with more than just medication. In fact, a combination of medication and other therapy is the most effective way to reduce back pain.

Try these alternative and non-drug options:

Sleeping well can be a challenge with back pain. Deep breathing, meditation, and other strategies may help you relax and get the rest you need at night.

Learn about other therapies and alternative treatments.

Reviewed by: Benjamin Balderson, MD, January 2019

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