Doctors Push Antidepressants for Low Back Pain

Do anti depressants relieve lower back pain, as these doctors claim? Not exactly 

| HealthLine – Researchers say taking anti depressants can provide some short term relief for your aching back. There are other steps you can take, too.

Doctors often prescribe anti-inflammatory medications and recommend physical therapy in order to treat back pain.

But what about antidepressants?

A recent study authored by doctors in Australia and the Netherlands found that the antidepressant amitriptyline was effective at reducing lower back pain on a short-term basis.

But there’s a catch …

Amitriptyline (U.S. brand names: Elavil, Vanatrip)

This medication is used to treat mental/mood problems such as depression. It may help improve mood and feelings of well-being, relieve anxiety and tension, help you sleep better, and increase your energy level. This medication belongs to a class of medications called tricyclic antidepressants. It works by affecting the balance of certain natural chemicals (neurotransmitters such as serotonin) in the brain.

Drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, weight gain, or trouble urinating may occur. If any of these effects persist or worsen, notify your doctor or pharmacist promptly. SOURCE: WebMD

While the antidepressant was effective at the three-month mark, its positive effects were less significant after six months.

The study authors note that although a larger-scale study would be helpful, their findings indicate that an antidepressant medication can be beneficial for lower back pain — and is certainly less harmful than treatment with opioids.

“This study is saying that when patients are treated with antidepressants, they’re not bothered by the pain as much,” explained Dr. Charla Fischer, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at New York University’s School of Medicine.

“So the pain scores remain the same, but it’s more the mental outlook of not being so bothered by the pain that’s different.”

Stress and back pain

While the physical source of lower back pain can often be identified through testing, the mental and emotional toll of stress and depression tends to exacerbate the problem.

In short, back pain isn’t all in your head. But what’s in your head can have a way of making things worse.

Fischer says one of her first steps in talking to a patient is unpacking their day-to-day life to identify possible stressors.

“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,” she said. Read more. 


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Doctors Push Antidepressants for Lower Back Pain; Here’s Their Explanation