The Best Painkillers for a Pinched Nerve in the Neck

A pinched nerve in the neck, also called cervical radiculopathy, can cause severe pain that radiates down the arm and shoulder. While pinched nerves often heal on their own within a few weeks, anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers can provide relief from the sometimes debilitating symptoms. If you are suffering from a pinched nerve in your neck, these are some of the best over-the-counter and prescription pain medication options.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

For mild to moderate nerve pain, many people find relief through over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). These medications can reduce inflammation and block pain signals. Take them according to package directions, usually every 4-6 hours as needed.

While side effects are generally minimal, high or long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to stomach irritation, ulcers or bleeding. Acetaminophen may cause liver damage if taken in doses higher than 3,000 mg per day. Don’t exceed dosage recommendations.

Muscle Relaxers

Muscle spasms often accompany a pinched nerve, so muscle relaxants like cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) or tizanidine (Zanaflex) can be helpful. These relieve spasms and pain by blocking nerve impulses to the muscles. Muscle relaxants are available both over-the-counter in low doses and by prescription for higher doses.

Potential side effects include drowsiness, dizziness and dry mouth. Use caution when driving or operating machinery if you’re taking muscle relaxants.

Oral Steroids

For more severe nerve pain and inflammation, your doctor may prescribe a short steroid taper using prednisone or methylprednisolone (Medrol). Steroids help reduce swelling by suppressing the immune system. This can quickly deliver pain relief directly to the irritated nerve.

However, steroids should not be used long term due to potential side effects like high blood pressure, bone loss, weight gain and mood changes. Work closely with your doctor if you take an oral steroid medication.

Topical Pain Relievers

Gels, rubs and patches that contain menthol, capsaicin or lidocaine can numb and soothe pinched nerve pain when applied to the skin on the neck and shoulder area. These provide localized pain relief without the systemic effects of oral medications. Brand names include Biofreeze, Aspercreme and Lidoderm.

Use topical products sparingly and avoid contact with eyes, nose and mouth. Discontinue use if skin irritation occurs. Do not bandage tightly over topical numbing products.

The Best Approach

Most pinched nerves improve within a few weeks using conservative self-care combined with over-the-counter medications. But if nerve pain persists or worsens, see your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and determine if prescription medications may be beneficial in your situation. The right pain relief plan can help you manage nerve pain until the impingement resolves.