Opioids for a Herniated Disc

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Opioids for a Herniated Disc


Generic NameBrand Name
acetaminophen and codeineTylenol with Codeine
oxycodone and ASA 

How It Works

Opioid medicines (narcotics) relieve pain by altering how the brain perceives pain.

Why It Is Used

Opioids are usually used to treat more severe pain that is poorly controlled after using other medicines.

Because these medicines can be addictive, they are usually prescribed for a short period of time (1 to 2 weeks).

How Well It Works

Opioids are sometimes used to relieve acute pain caused by a herniated disc.1 Doctors who specialize in treating pain in adults with degenerative conditions such as spinal osteoarthritis believe that opioids can be a responsible choice for treatment if pain is not relieved by other forms of treatment and you are unable to engage in daily activities.

Side Effects

Side effects of opioids include:

  • Confusion, clouded judgment.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Constipation (which can increase back pain).

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Limit your use of opioids to less than 2 weeks. Opioids are only meant for treating periods of extremely severe pain and are not intended for use until the pain goes completely away.

You may become physically dependent on opioids if you take them regularly. Physical dependence is not addiction, but rather a gradual change in your body in response to the opioids. If you stop taking opioids abruptly, you may develop nausea, sweating, chills, diarrhea, and shaking. These are symptoms of withdrawal from the opioid. This physical dependence is not life-threatening and can be avoided if the opioids are tapered off over a set period of time, as prescribed by your doctor.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and American Academy of Pediatrics (2005). Lumbar herniated disk section of Spine. In LY Griffin, ed., Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 3rd ed., pp. 769–773. Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Donald Sproule, MD, CM, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
Last Revised September 29, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.