Every now and then I have a bout of back pain. It comes on suddenly, lasts a week or two, and then goes away. I don't really want to take drugs, but I need some kind of pain relief. What do you suggest?

Most patients with back pain of unknown cause are given muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, or painkillers. Drugs for pain range from over-the-counter analgesics to
prescription narcotics.

Studies show muscle relaxants and narcotic analgesics aren't likely to help. More and more doctors are giving patients newer types of anti-inflammatories. However, the ability of these medicines to reduce pain is under question. It may be that doctors' practices are influenced more by marketing from drug companies than by results.

Until more is known, patients are often told to take a nonnarcotic analgesic for pain while remaining as active as possible. Check with your local pharmacist for the best over-the-counter product to take. If you continue to have pain that comes more and more often and lasts longer and longer, see your doctor.

Michael Feuerstein, PhD, MPH, et al. National Trends in Nonoperative Care for Nonspecific Back Pain. In The Spine Journal. January/February 2004. Vol. 4. No. 1. Pp. 56-63.

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