Antidepressants May Offer Short Term Lower Back Pain Relief, Study Finds

An antidepressant called amitriptyline was determined to offer short term relief to patients suffering from lower back pain.

Digital composite of highlighted spine of woman with back pain at home
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An antidepressant called amitriptyline was determined to offer short term relief to patients suffering from lower back pain.

According to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine by doctors in the Netherlands and Australia, an antidepressant called amitriptyline can effectively provide short term relief from lower back pain.

Typically, health care professionals prescribe patients with anti-inflammatory medication in combination with physical therapy to treat all forms of back pain. While over-the-counter pain killers may provide some relief, doctors stay away from prescription pain killers as a form of treatment because they are easy to become addicted to. This new study, however, suggests antidepressants – for a period of three to six months – can be an effective treatment plan.

While the authors of the study feel a larger study with more participants would be helpful to learn more about the findings, that doesn’t make the results any less promising. After all, taking an antidepressant to alleviate lower back pain is far less harmful to the human body than a treatment involving opioids.

Speaking to Healthline, Dr. Charla Fischer, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at New York University’s School of Medicine, explained the antidepressants do not necessarily make the lower back pain go away. The medication just creates a situation where the patient is less bothered by the pain.

While Fischer acknowledges back pain isn’t a health problem that exists only in a person’s head, the way a person thinks and focuses on the back pain can often make it worse than it already is.

“I usually talk to them about how they get to work, what kind of work they do, whether they like it, and how it’s going in general. That opens the door into other issues that may be bothering them and gives a sense of their activities in relation to what can cause back pain,” Dr. Fischer explains.

Office woman suffering from back pain
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According to Dr. Fischer, just having a candid conversation with a patient suffering from back pain is crucial in determining what might be causing the back pain and the best course of treatment.

In addition to managing stress levels, ergonomics and physical activity also play a role in an effective lower back pain treatment plan. According to Dr. Fischer, health care professionals must encourage patients to make small changes in the way they live to really help their patient get that desired relief.

While the study did confirm patients can take an antidepressant called amitriptyline to gain relief from lower back pain for a few months, this form of treatment should be viewed as nothing more than a temporary fix to a bigger problem. Ultimately, a patient suffering from back pain will need to make life style changes, go to physical therapy, and possibly take anti-inflammatories to treat the pain on a long term basis.