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Acetaminophen for Low Back Pain

Acetaminophen for Low Back Pain

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
acetaminophen Tylenol

How It Works

Acetaminophen is an analgesic, or pain reliever. Acetaminophen does not reduce inflammation, as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) do. Whether reducing inflammation helps people with low back pain is not known.

Why It Is Used

Acetaminophen is typically used for mild to moderate pain.

How Well It Works

Acetaminophen helps relieve low back pain in some people, especially mild or moderate pain that has lasted less than 3 months. Acetaminophen at recommended dosages is safer than some other medicines. So many doctors suggest trying acetaminophen first to see if it helps.1

Like other pain medicines, acetaminophen works best if it is taken on a regular schedule instead of only when pain is severe.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin.
  • Stomach cramps or pain.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Blood in your stools, or you are vomiting blood.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Be sure to tell your doctor about all the nonprescription and prescription medicines you take.

Acetaminophen can be used by people whose stomachs cannot tolerate NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen.

Check the labels on all the other nonprescription and prescription medicines you take. Many medicines have acetaminophen. Do not take two or more medicines with acetaminophen in them unless your doctor told you to. Taking too much acetaminophen can be harmful. If you have questions about this, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Chou R, Huffman LH (2007). Medications for acute and chronic low back pain: A review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians clinical practice guideline. Annals of Internal Medicine, 147(7): 505–514.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
Last Revised May 14, 2012

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