A journey with chronic back pain is usually accompanied by anti inflammatory medications like NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs). While they do provide temporary pain and inflammation relief, if you’ve been taking NSAIDs for back pain for an extended period of time, it may be time to re-evaluate your pain management plan.
NSAIDs can be helpful for occasional relief from various types of pain and inflammation. They work by blocking a protein in the body called COX enzymes. By blocking this enzyme, your body produces a reduced amount of prostaglandins, a chemical that’s formed in your body tissue at the site of damage or infection. Less prostaglandins equals less pain from inflammation.
But for people living with chronic back pain – pain lasting longer than 12 weeks – it’s a good idea to be aware of the increased risks associated with consistent use of NSAIDs, as they can be quite serious.
Popular names for over-the-counter pain medication include:
Prescription NSAIDs include:
Why NSAIDS can be dangerous
For many people living with chronic back pain (and neck pain), they find themselves taking NSAIDs around-the-clock to ease symptoms. Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that just because OTC, non-steroidal, anti inflammatory drugs like NSAIDs available over the counter, they’re harmless. The truth is that there are risks associated with all medications whether they require a prescription or not.
- heart attack
- high blood pressure
- heart failure from body swelling (fluid retention)
- kidney problems including kidney failure
- bleeding and ulcers in the stomach and intestine
- low red blood cells (anemia)
- life-threatening skin reactions
- life-threatening allergic reactions
- liver problems including liver failure
- asthma attacks in people who have asthma
- stomach pain
The smart approach to NSAIDs
Another way NSAIDs can be potentially dangerous is that some patients may not realize they’re taking too much. This can happen for a few different reasons. They may ignore the recommended dosage of the pain reliever, assuming it’s okay to take more. In their quest for relief, they throw caution to the wind and pop pills until they feel better.
A study of 1,300 people taking ibuprofen revealed that 15% took more than the recommended dosage. It also noted that exceeding the recommended maximum dose was “especially common among men, those with chronic pain, those with poor knowledge of dosing recommendations, and those who believed in choosing my own dose.”
Some back pain patients follow dosage instructions, but they don’t realize other medications they’re taking like OTC cold and flu medication contain NSAIDs too, so they’re taking too much. Plus, there are prescription medications that can trigger dangerous, adverse reactions when mixed with NSAIDs.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a back condition and NSAIDs are part of your pain management plan, make sure you’ve discussed your dosage with your healthcare team, including your pharmacist. Self-medicating without proper guidance is risky.