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Pain Management Health Center

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Cervical Disc Disease Treatment: Drugs That Can Help


Your doctor will make the decision as to whether to put you on an NSAID after weighing the benefits against the risks.

Narcotic painkillers. Opioids such as codeine (contained in Tylenol with codeine), hydrocodone (contained in Vicodin and Lortab), and oxycodone (such as OxyContin, and contained in Percocet and Percodan) can provide significant relief when neck pain is particularly intense and other non-narcotic pain medications aren't sufficient for pain relief. So can tramadol (contained in Ultram), a narcotic-like analgesic. Although opioids are effective for pain, they should be used with caution because they can lead to drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and depressed breathing. These prescription painkillers also have the potential for abuse and addiction when not taken as directed. Narcotic painkillers are best used over the short term (one to two weeks) and under your doctor's guidance.

Steroids. Steroids such as prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone, Sterapred) work by reducing inflammation. Although they can be taken orally, steroids given for neck pain are sometimes delivered directly to the spine via an injection to the area. Research shows that steroid injection does relieve neck pain over the short term, although its effectiveness for chronic pain is unclear. The most common side effects of steroid injections are infection, headache, and bleeding. Side effects of oral steroids, which are not generally used, include weight gain, and, less often, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.

Muscle Relaxants. Baclofen and other muscle relaxants calm muscle tightness, and some research suggests they can relieve neck pain within the first few days of an acute injury. When using these drugs, watch out for side effects such as drowsiness, dependence, and urinary retention. These drugs are best used short term under a doctor's guidance.

Anticonvulsants. Although they are approved by the FDA to treat seizures, anticonvulsant drugs such as gabapentin (Neurontin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), and pregabalin (Lyrica) may help with nerve-related neck pain. How exactly anticonvulsants work on neck pain is unknown, but they are believed to affect the way the brain perceives pain. Side effects include dizziness, sleepiness, vision problems, and vomiting.

Antidepressants . Antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil) and nortriptyline (Pamelor) may help with chronic pain and with sleep. It may take several weeks to see an effect. Side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, constipation, and urinary retention.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 29, 2015
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