Pain Relievers for Back Pain: Is Ibuprofen Effective For Back Pain?14 March 2023
- Ibuprofen is a common over-the-counter pain reliever that can help to alleviate back pain. Ibuprofen works by reducing inflammation, which is one of the primary causes of back pain.
- If you’re suffering from back pain, ibuprofen can be a good way to relieve your discomfort. However, it is important to remember that ibuprofen is not a cure for back pain and should only be used as a temporary relief measure.
- Other medications, such as paracetamol, may be more effective at treating chronic back pain. Combining paracetamol with ibuprofen may provide better back pain relief.
- Alternatively, people suffering from back pain or chronic back pain can look into alternative ways to treat back pain. Mindfulness, massage and medical cannabis all show the potential to alleviate lower back pain.
Ibuprofen is a popular pain reliever that helps to reduce inflammation and pain. It’s the active ingredient in many over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs such as Nurofen, Brufen, Calprofen, Fenbid, Ibugel and Ibuleve.
As an easily accessible analgesic, ibuprofen is a common choice for treating mild to moderate pain. It’s also one of the most commonly used medications among adults globally. In fact, ibuprofen has been rated as the safest conventional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in the UK.
So, is ibuprofen a prime choice for treating back pain? The answer to this question is a bit more complicated than it might seem. In some cases, ibuprofen can provide temporary relief from back pain.
However, there are also some risks associated with taking ibuprofen when you have a back condition. Let’s look at the pros and cons of using this common pain reliever for back pain relief.
Our clinic specialises in treating conditions such as chronic pain, across the UK, Jersey and Guernsey. If you are seeking an alternative to ibuprofen to relieve back pain or are interested in learning more about medical cannabis, our team will be happy to discuss your eligibility with you. Learn more on our website today.
Back pain: causes, diagnosis and treatment
Back pain is a common problem that can affect people of all ages. According to one survey, nearly 32% (or one-third) of the UK population suffer from back pain at some point in their lives.
It is the most common cause of disability and missed days at work, accounting for approximately two million lost working days each year. Back pain is also a major cause of visits to general practitioners (GPs) and specialists such as orthopaedic surgeons.
Back pain is usually felt as dull, aching discomfort in the lower back, buttocks or upper thighs. It can also radiate downwards into the legs. The pain may be accompanied by stiffness and difficulty moving around.
Unlike other conditions, back pain often arises without warning. This can make it difficult to diagnose the cause of the pain. It is often linked to various other conditions, including:
- Muscular strain or injury. Repeated overuse, trauma or strenuous activity can all lead to muscular strain. This can cause back pain and may also be associated with stiffness and soreness in the affected area.
- Pain related to spinal deformities. Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) is a common cause of back pain, particularly during adolescence when bones are still growing. Spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis are also common causes of back pain.
- Degenerative disc disease. A breakdown in the soft tissue between vertebrae causes this condition. It can lead to pain, tenderness and stiffness in the affected area.
- Arthritis is the most common cause of lower back pain and can affect any part of your spine. It’s a general term that refers to inflammation of the joints, which causes them to become stiff and painful.
- Tumours are not as common a cause of back pain as other conditions, but they can be very serious. They may develop in the spine or spinal cord and cause symptoms such as weakness, numbness and loss of sensation.
- Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become brittle and easily broken. It’s most common in older women but can affect men as well.
- Infection. Spinal infections like osteomyelitis and discitis can cause severe back pain.
Aside from these conditions, back pain can arise from risk factors. These include:
- Weight. Being overweight or obese can put you at greater risk for spinal disc injuries, herniated discs and pinched nerves.
- Lack of exercise can contribute to back pain and other health problems.
- Smoking. Tobacco use is another risk factor for back pain because it increases the risk of developing herniated discs and osteoporosis.
- Improper lifting can lead to back injuries, including muscle strains and disc injuries.
- Poor posture. Sitting for long periods with poor posture can cause back pain.
- Mental health. Those with an underlying mental health condition such as depression or anxiety are more likely to develop back pain.
Those with back pain should see a doctor if the sensation persists for more than a few days. Other accompanying symptoms, such as fever, nausea and vomiting, also warrant a doctor’s visit. A physician will likely perform a physical exam and ask questions about the patient’s medical history.
Patients may need to undergo the following tests for a physician to determine the underlying cause of the back pain:
- Blood tests will help determine if an infection or a chronic condition causes the pain.
- X-rays may be taken to rule out bone fractures or spinal deformities.
- MRI or CT scans help detect any spinal abnormalities or tumours that may be causing the pain.
- Electromyography (EMG) tests involve placing electrodes on the skin to measure how well the muscles are functioning. An EMG can help determine if a patient is experiencing muscle spasms or nerve damage that may be causing their back pain.
Treatment for back pain depends on the cause of the pain. The following are some common treatments:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to relieve mild to moderate back pain. NSAIDs may also be prescribed as a preventative measure if there is no known cause of your back pain.
- Muscle relaxants may be used to treat muscle spasms or tightness in the muscles around the spine.
- Antidepressants may be prescribed if the pain is related to depression or anxiety.
- Opioids are often prescribed for severe back pain, but they can be addictive and should only be used as a last resort.
- Surgery. If other treatments aren’t working, surgery may be considered. It is usually only recommended when the back pain is caused by a structural problem that can be fixed with surgery.
- Exercise is one of the most effective treatments for back pain. It can also help prevent future episodes of pain.
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist may work with you to develop an exercise plan that targets your specific symptoms and gives you back-friendly stretching exercises that you can do at home.
Ibuprofen for lower back pain: what you need to know
Ibuprofen is an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), a type of medication that can be used to treat pain and inflammation. Most over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are NSAIDs.
Some brand names in the UK include Nurofen, Brufen, Calprofen, Fenbid, Ibugel and Ibuleve. Ibuprofen has been shown in studies to help relieve back pain caused by arthritis and lower back pain from injury or strain. It can also be used for other conditions such as menstrual cramps and headaches (tension or migraine). Always consult your doctor before starting a new treatment regimen.
How does ibuprofen work?
NSAIDs like ibuprofen reduce both pain and inflammation. They work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are responsible for causing swelling, redness and heat in your body. By blocking this pathway, NSAIDs can significantly reduce pain.
These medications can also help with inflammation by blocking the COX-1 and COX-2 pathways as well. In addition to reducing inflammation directly, this can also prevent further damage to your joints that you might experience when using these medications long-term.
How much ibuprofen do I need for back pain?
The right dose of ibuprofen is determined by the severity of your pain and other health conditions you may have. Ibuprofen is available in tablet and capsule form, but liquid formulations are not recommended for children under six years old because they can easily overdose. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should also not take ibuprofen unless it’s been prescribed by your doctor.
- 200mg tablets are used for mild-to-moderate pain, such as back pain, headaches and period cramps.
- 400mg tablets are used for moderate-to-severe pain.
Is ibuprofen a cure for back pain?
You should continue taking ibuprofen as long as recommended. Ibuprofen is not a cure for back pain and will not remove the cause of your pain.
If you have been prescribed ibuprofen to treat your back pain, you should take it exactly as directed by your doctor. Ibuprofen is not a substitute for medical care or physical therapy; it only treats acute (short-term) low-back injury symptoms.
Ibuprofen for back pain – what the science says
Ibuprofen can be used to alleviate lower back pain, but the question remains: is it the best option?
The answer is not clear-cut. Studies have shown that ibuprofen is effective in treating lower back pain but may also be associated with adverse effects. Other options may be better at treating back pain.
Side effects of ibuprofen
Ibuprofen may cause side effects such as nausea, stomach pain and heartburn. Long-term use of ibuprofen may increase your risk of kidney damage or ulcers in the stomach and intestine.
Ibuprofen versus other medications
When it comes to treating back pain, other medications may be more effective than ibuprofen. One study found that paracetamol (Panadol) was more effective at relieving lower back pain than ibuprofen.
A 2017 randomised clinical trial found that combining paracetamol and ibuprofen yields better back pain relief. In the study, 40 patients received 400mg of ibuprofen thrice a day. Another group took a combination of 200mg ibuprofen and 325mg paracetamol.
After four days of treatment, the group that took the combined medication reported a significant reduction in pain compared to the group taking ibuprofen alone. While combined therapy is effective, it comes with its risks. For example, combining painkillers can cause liver damage and stomach ulcers.
Alternative methods for lower back pain relief
While medication-based treatments may work, it’s best to consult with your doctor to determine if they’re right for you. In addition, there are other ways to manage lower back pain without using prescriptions.
1. Medical cannabis
A 2022 review published in the Global Spine Journal suggests that the use of medical cannabis is associated with a significant reduction in back pain. Concerning cannabis use, the researchers found that most side effects were non-serious.
The researchers also argued that medical cannabis could be a safer alternative to opioids, another commonly prescribed (but highly addictive) treatment for back pain. Medical cannabis has been shown to be well-tolerated in clinical studies, with an increasing number of physicians advocating its use as part of pain management programs.
Lyphe is the UK’s leading medical cannabis clinic. If you want to learn more about your medical cannabis treatment options, book an appointment today.
2. Meditation and mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness are both forms of mental training that can help reduce stress and anxiety. Stress is one of the main causes of back pain, so reducing it can help reduce pain perception.
3. Dietary changes
Dietary changes can also help reduce back pain. For example, eating more fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens) can help reduce inflammation and provide vitamins that promote overall health.
A diet rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients can help reduce the chances of developing back pain and also help to manage existing pain. It’s also essential to have enough calcium for stronger bones. One of the most common causes of back pain is osteoporosis, a condition that causes weak bones that are susceptible to fractures.
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce back pain. Exercise helps by increasing blood flow and strengthening your muscles, which can help relieve pressure on your spine. It’s also important to remember that it may take time for you to start feeling better after starting an exercise program.
The bottom line is that ibuprofen often helps with back pain. It can temporarily relieve pain, but it will only do so for a short period. Ibuprofen does not provide long-term relief, and there may be side effects with constant use.
As such, patients may want to consider alternative measures. These include natural remedies such as heat or cold therapy, which have been shown to provide relief for some people suffering from back pain.
If you’re considering medical cannabis as an option for back pain relief, Lyphe can help. We can evaluate your condition and determine your eligility. If you are interested in learning more about medical cannabis, contact us today.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much ibuprofen can I take for back pain?
You should not take more than 1,200 milligrams (mg) of ibuprofen in one day. The maximum amount of ibuprofen recommended for adults is 3,200mg daily.
Is ibuprofen safe to take for back pain?
Yes, ibuprofen is safe to take for back pain. However, you should always follow directions on the package and never exceed the recommended dose.
How long does it take for ibuprofen to work on back pain?
Ibuprofen usually starts working within 30 minutes to an hour. It can take up to 24 hours for the full effects of ibuprofen to kick in.
Is ibuprofen or paracetamol better for back pain?
Ibuprofen could be your first option for treating back pain. However, combining paracetamol and ibuprofen may also be an option for you.
What causes lower back pain?
Lower back pain is often caused by muscular strain or injury. Other common causes include poor posture, arthritis and slipped discs in the spine.
10 alternative back pain treatments to try before choosing surgery: Orthopaedics and rehab: UT southwestern medical center. Orthopaedics and Rehab | UT Southwestern Medical Center. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2023, from https://utswmed.org/medblog/alternative-back-pain-treatment/
Bushra, R., & Aslam, N. (2010). An overview of clinical pharmacology of Ibuprofen. Oman medical journal, 25(3), 155–1661. https://doi.org/10.5001/omj.2010.49
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, September 17). Back pain. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 17, 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906
NHS. (n.d.). Ibuprofen for adults (Nurofen). NHS choices. Retrieved January 17, 2023, from https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/ibuprofen-for-adults/
Ostojic, P., Radunovic, G., Lazovic, M., & Tomanovic-Vujadinovic, S. (2017). Ibuprofen plus paracetamol versus ibuprofen in acute low back pain: a randomized open label multicenter clinical study. Ibuprofen plus paracetamol versus ibuprofen in acute low back pain: a randomized open label multicenter clinical study. Acta reumatologica portuguesa, 42(1), 18–25.
Price, R. L., Charlot, K. V., Frieler, S., Dettori, J. R., Oskouian, R., & Chapman, J. R. (2022). The Efficacy of Cannabis in Reducing Back Pain: A Systematic Review. Global spine journal, 12(2), 343–352. https://doi.org/10.1177/21925682211065411
The state of musculoskeletal health 2021. Versus Arthritis. (n.d.). Retrieved January 1, 2023, from https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/data-and-statistics/the-state-of-musculoskeletal-health
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