Prescription medications are often an important part of the pain management process for people with back pain and neck pain. But for all the relief they can provide, pain medications can be dangerous due to seemingly simple and common decisions made at home, such as splitting a pill. Patients also sometimes still struggle to get enough pain relief even when taking their prescription medications exactly as prescribed.

Spine-health readers share some of their tips for safely and effectively using prescription medications to manage spine pain:

  • Longer lasting may be better than stronger. If you find yourself in pain long before your next dosage is due, talk to your doctor about switching to a longer lasting medication, not a stronger one. As many pain medications carry risk of addiction, patients who ask for stronger drugs raise red flags. A longer lasting medication will allow you to take fewer pills for more relief.
  • Specific types of pain require specific medications. Make sure your medication is appropriate for your injury. Be very specific when discussing your pain needs with your doctor so he can prescribe the right medication for you. For example, medications to treat nerve pain will not be as effective for achy pain and vice versa.
  • Splitting pills is not recommended. Don’t split pills unless specifically instructed to do so by your doctor or pharmacist. Pills are designed to deliver the medication in a specific way, and tampering with the structure can affect their efficacy.
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  • Higher doses may not provide additional pain relief. Be informed of dosage indications. Just because a pill is small does not mean you need to take more of them. Taking any more than the recommended dose of a prescription medication can lead to serious complications and may not provide any additional pain relief anyway. Also be aware of which medications contain acetaminophen (Tylenol), as these are extra hard on the liver.
  • Pain medications can create sleep problems that need to be addressed. One side effect commonly associated with pain medications is trouble sleeping. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking an anti-anxiety medication, muscle relaxant or other sleep aid to help you sleep. It is important that any additional medications do not interfere with the pain medications, but sleep problems do need to be addressed as they can interfere with healing and exacerbate a back condition.

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The most important thing is to keep an open line of communication with your doctor. Share concerns you have regarding dosage, effectiveness, or side effects. Doctors are there to help, but you have to ask.