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Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), have been found to improve pain for people with low back pain. It’s unclear whether acetaminophen or NSAIDs are more effective.

One thing that might help make your decision easier is the potential side effects of medications.

The side effects of NSAIDs include gastrointestinal problems and kidney problems, while acetaminophen primarily can cause damage to the liver. In most cases, you’d need to take large doses of the medications over a long period of time to cause any damage.

Topical creams and gels that contain ingredients like capsaicin, salicylate, camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol also may be soothing for pain. These include products such as Aspercreme, Bengay, Icy Hot, and Zostrix.

Exercise

Although no specific exercises have been found to be particularly effective in alleviating back pain, exercise in general is important for many people with back pain to maintain mobility.  

If you've had physical therapy in the past and know what to do, then start with a gentle exercise program. If you're not sure which exercises to do, then talk with your doctor or have a physical therapist show you.

A physical therapist may have you do exercises to help widen the spaces between the vertebrae, reducing pressure on the nerves. Exercises to stretch back and hip muscles and strengthen abdominal muscles may also be recommended. You may also do stretching exercises to ease stiffness and increase range of motion. You may be encouraged to do aerobic exercise for overall fitness.

You may also do extension exercises which involve bending backward -- such as with leg lifts. These exercises may help minimize radiating pain. You may also do stretching exercises to ease stiffness and increase range of motion. You may be encouraged to do aerobic exercise for overall fitness.

“Exercise is always a good baseline treatment to do at home,” says Jung. However, exercising when your back is in spasm can be counterproductive. Instead, wait for spasms to subside, then slowly start stretching your muscles.

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