Treating Back Pain Without Opioids

Published: February 01, 2022
Rachel Crusius
By Rachel Crusius, Pharm.D. Candidate 2022

There are several lifestyle and medication options that have been shown to be safer and better than opioids for the treatment of lower back pain. Opioids have been shown to be addictive and potentially dangerous for the management of chronic pain. Your pharmacist is trained to make treatment recommendations that are safe and effective for relieving lower back pain.


What are opioids, and how do they work?

Opioids are a type of pain medication that includes hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and several others. They treat your pain by blocking your brain’s ability to process the pain by making you unable to feel the discomfort.


Why should I avoid using opioids for my back pain?

The American College of Physicians reviewed the use of opioids for back pain and found that there isn’t good quality information about opioids being effective for relieving low back pain and remaining helpful over long periods of time.


Also, there are concerns about opioids being safe. When using opioids, you are at an increased risk of becoming addicted to them since they can also cause feelings of pleasure or happiness. This reinforces the desire to continue taking them and at higher doses than recommended, which can lead to addictions and overdoses.


Are there lifestyle options to manage my lower back pain?

You can do several things to help reduce your back pain that don’t require medications at all. Some of these options include:


  • Acupuncture
  • Exercise such as yoga or tai chi, stretching
  • Physical therapy
  • Applying cold or heat compresses
  • Massage
  • Meeting with a chiropractor for an evaluation


Even though these methods do not require medical prescribing, these activities should be done with care. If you are concerned about incorporating these lifestyle changes into your daily life, be sure to talk to your pharmacist or another member of your healthcare team.


What are some non-opioid medication options for my lower back pain?

There are several non-opioid medications that are recommended for low back pain by the American College of Physicians. Some of these include:


There are other medications that are sometimes used for back pain that aren’t listed here. Discuss pain relieving options with your pharmacist to decide which medication is best for you.


Are the non-opioid medications safe?

Almost every medication has some risks associated with it, usually related to its side effects. While non-opioid medications do have some side effects, they are safer than opioid medications since they have lower rates of addiction, abuse, and overdose.


However, tramadol is related to opioids, so use it with caution for back pain and reach out to your pharmacist or a member of your healthcare team if you need to take a higher dose to relieve your pain or if you are having side effects.



There are a wide variety of options to help make your life more pain free. Talk to your pharmacists about the different medication and lifestyle options available to you. Pharmacists are the most accessible member of your healthcare team. They are trained to discuss non-opioid pain relief options, how to live healthier lifestyles, and other options to control your lower back pain without the use of opioids.

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