Pain Medications for Herniated Disc: Options to Consider

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A herniated disc is one of the most common causes of lower back pain. Several medications are available to help a person reduce their pain.

A herniated disc is one of the most common causes of lower back pain, although it can occur anywhere along the spine. People may also call it a ruptured, bulging, or protruding disc.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) states that painkillers do not cure a herniated disc – they can only help relieve pain while the disc heals.

This article will cover some medications a person can take to reduce the pain associated with a herniated disc.

When coping with a herniated disc at home, people can take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs help reduce pain and inflammation.

The following NSAIDs may help relieve pain associated with a herniated disc.

Naproxen (Aleve)

Naproxen sodium is a type of propionic acid. A person can take it to relieve pain associated with a herniated disc.

Although the dosage may vary, a typical dosage is 1 to 2 tablets — 220 milligrams (mg) each – every 8-12 hours. A person should not exceed 660 mg of naproxen per day.

Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil)

Ibuprofen is another type of propionic acid. People can find this medication under several brand names, including Motrin and Advil.

Although it can vary, a typical dose is 1 to 2 (200mg) tablets every 4-6 hours. A person should not exceed 1,200 mg of ibuprofen per day.

Aspirin (Bayer)

Aspirin is another common NSAID. It is composed of acetylated salicylates.

The typical dosage for aspirin is 1 to 2 (325mg) tablets every 4 hours. Alternatively, a person can take 3 tablets every 6 hours. A person should not take more than 4000 mg of aspirin per day.

Side effects of NSAIDs

According to the UK National Health Service (NHS), NSAIDs can cause:

In rare cases, they can cause more serious side effects, including allergic reactions and heart, liver, kidney and circulatory problems.

Precautions to take

Although NSAIDs are generally safe to take, the following people should consult a doctor before taking them:

  • pregnant women
  • those trying to conceive
  • those who breastfeed
  • people with asthma
  • people who have had an allergic reaction to NSAIDs in the past
  • people over 65
  • people who have had health problems affecting their heart, intestines, liver, kidneys, or blood pressure

People taking other medications should also consult a doctor to make sure that NSAIDs will not interact with their current medications.

If a person’s pain does not go away with over-the-counter medications or if a person is in severe pain, a doctor may prescribe stronger medications.

Here are the options a doctor may prescribe for pain associated with a herniated disc.

Epidural corticosteroid injections

An epidural corticosteroid injection inserts the medication directly into the spine where it is needed. The AAOS notes that the drug reduces inflammation around nerves in the back, which helps reduce pain.

A doctor may prescribe an epidural corticosteroid injection if other non-surgical options have not helped in 6 weeks.

A doctor will need to perform the injection in a medical facility. Before the injection, a person should follow all the doctor’s recommendations.

Before placing the injection, a doctor will apply a local anesthetic to help ease the pain associated with the injection.

Side effects

A person has an increased risk of infection if they receive the injection within 3 months of surgery. A person should discuss any potential risks or concerns they may have with their doctor.

Typically, a person will not experience any side effects from this injection. However, if side effects do occur, they may include:

  • redness of the chest and face
  • high temperature for several days
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Water retention
  • anxiety
  • menstrual cycle changes
  • temporary worsening of pain

Side effects tend to go away in 1-3 days.

In rare cases, a person may develop serious side effects, including:

  • allergic reaction
  • infection
  • bleeding
  • nerve damage
  • paralysis

Corticosteroids

A person can take oral corticosteroids to help treat inflammation and pain associated with a herniated disc. A doctor may refer to these drugs as glucocorticoids or steroids.

Although corticosteroids can help reduce pain and inflammation, they can also reduce the effectiveness of a person’s immune system.

For short-term treatment, a doctor will likely prescribe enough of these drugs to last 7 to 9 days.

A person should only take corticosteroids when prescribed by a doctor. They should also tell the doctor if they experience any unwanted or unusual side effects while taking the drug.

Side effects

Side effects may include:

  • increased risk of infection
  • weight gain
  • changes in blood sugar
  • changes in a person’s response to physical stress
  • increased blood pressure
  • skin changes
  • mood swings

Medicines can be expensive. A person may find it beneficial to speak with a doctor or pharmacist about lower cost drug options.

People can contact the following organizations to find medications at a lower cost:

A herniated disc can cause pain in a person’s back, most commonly in the lower back. To reduce the pain associated with a herniated disc, a person can take over-the-counter NSAIDs or prescription steroids.

Before taking any medications, a person should consult a doctor for recommendations on which ones to take. They should also follow all instructions on the package or from the doctor or pharmacist.

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