Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a medication that it is thought to relieve pain by working in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), and may be recommended for back and other forms of musculoskeletal pain.

See Medications for Back Pain and Neck Pain

Acetaminophen may be recommended for people who are unable to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin, or celecoxib (Celebrex), because of stomach irritation. Other people may be prescribed acetaminophen because of worries about increased risk of bleeding from other medications, such as warfarin (Coumadine), clopidogrel (Plavix), or rivaroxaban (Xarelto), which are all blood thinners.

See Potential Risks and Complications of NSAIDs

Acetaminophen is among the most common over-the-counter pain medications. In addition to being widely sold on its own, acetaminophen is in other medications, including those used for coughs and colds, such as some formulations of NyQuil and Robitussin. These combinations make it more likely that a person taking acetaminophen might take a second medicine—such as cough syrup—without realizing the cough syrup also contains acetaminophen.

How Acetaminophen Is Used for Back Pain

Acetaminophen is sold in varying strengths without a prescription, including regular strength, extra strength, and arthritis pain formulas. While over-the-counter acetaminophen is often recommended to treat mild to moderate pain, a physician may recommend an acetaminophen-opioid combination (Norco, Percocet) in some situations, such as for severe pain or pain following back surgery.


Benefits of Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen has fewer risks and potential complications compared to many other pain medications. Some of acetaminophens potential benefits include:

  • People do not develop a tolerance—where a higher dose is needed to achieve relief—with extended use
  • It rarely produces gastrointestinal (stomach) problems
  • Very few people are allergic to it

Acetaminophens low risk profile—when taken in recommended doses—as well as its ability to relieve pain, make it a good option for some people with back pain.

Dr. Kathee de Falla is a licensed and certified pharmacist. She has more than a decade of experience providing medical advice and supplying prescription medications in a retail setting. Dr. de Falla spent several years developing drugs at Abbott Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company where she holds a patent for a drug formulation.