Using Aspirin for Back Pain

The use of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) in some form is nearly as old as civilization itself. Hippocrates and even the ancient Egyptians used an early form of it—salicin, from the white willow tree—to treat pain and fever.

But, aspirin as a medicine to treat pain was developed by the Bayer company in the 1800s. More recently, aspirin has become a therapy for preventing cardiovascular disease and stroke, but using it in this way should be done according to your healthcare provider's recommendations.

pill bottle cap filled with aspirin
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Categorized as an analgesic, aspirin is an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication or NSAID. NSAIDs are used to relieve pain and inflammation. And, while aspirin is the sole ingredient in some NSAIDS, in others it is combined with different drugs.

Aspirin treats pain, fever, and inflammation. It can be used for muscle pain, arthritis, minor injuries, and other conditions. It is available in tablet and capsule form, as gum, or as a suppository. The tablets may be plain aspirin, enteric-coated, extended-release, buffered, or chewable. If you take an extended-release or enteric-coated tablets, take them whole – do not crush or chew.

Like other NSAIDs, aspirin works by preventing chemicals (called prostaglandins) from being formed. The body makes a variety of these prostaglandins, each with a different function.

What's the purpose of a prostaglandin? The short answer is it varies. Some bring about inflammation. Others relay pain signals, help blood clots form, or maintain the health of the lining of the stomach. As aspirin blocks the creation of prostaglandins, it may contribute to, among other things, prevention of pain and/or inflammation.

When you take aspirin, it is distributed all around the body. This means, along with pain relief, it may exert its effects in unintended places as well.


Aspirin is readily available in generic form. There are also quite a few common brands of aspirin, including but not limited to:

  • Bayer
  • Ascriptin
  • Ecotrin
  • Empirin
  • Zorprin

Many people store these medications in their bathroom medicine chest or in the kitchen near the faucet. But to keep your aspirin in good working order, it is best to store it away from heat and moisture. If it smells like vinegar, it has likely begun to disintegrate and should be discarded.

Side Effects

Side effects associated with aspirin are generally rare, but they can occur. After you swallow an aspirin, its active ingredient is released in your stomach.

Recall that prostaglandins play a role in blood clotting as well as maintaining the stomach lining. As aspirin inhibits the formation of prostaglandins, it may lead to bleeding in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Side effects in the GI tract can include irritation or ulcers. And, if you already have a peptic ulcer, aspirin may cause a recurrence.

Some people try to minimize or avoid GI-related side effects by taking an enteric-coated form of the drug. The thinking is that enteric-coated aspirin waits until it reaches the small intestine before it dissolves. (This is because the pH in the small intestine is more alkaline than it is in the stomach.) The problem is this strategy doesn't lower the risk of GI tract problems related to taking aspirin. In fact, it may even be harmful.

According to The Berkeley Wellness, enteric-coated aspirin is designed to minimize stomach discomfort, which is a different issue than reducing the risk of GI tract bleeding. Plus, some prostaglandins—and thromboxanes, another substance that aspirin blocks—are beneficial to your stomach.

But aspirin is an equal opportunity blocker, meaning these useful chemicals will also be prevented from forming. The Berkeley Wellness explains that the systemic effect of taking aspirin, regardless of where in the body the aspirin dissolves, is what often leads to stomach bleeding.

An aspirin allergy may also occur in some individuals, which would take the form of hives, facial swelling, wheezing, and/or shock. People with GI tract, liver or kidney problems and an allergy to aspirin or other NSAIDs should check with their healthcare provider before taking aspirin.

Aspirin can sometimes cause ringing in the ears and/or partial deafness. If hearing problems occur after you take aspirin, call your healthcare provider immediately.

Alcohol and aspirin are not a good mix. Taking alcohol with aspirin can increase the risk of stomach bleeding or otherwise affect how the drug works in your body. Ask your healthcare provider or read the label carefully to find out the maximum number of drinks you can have between doses.

Aspirin and Children

Aspirin and kids don't always mix. Aspirin is known to cause a rare disease in minors called Reye's Syndrome, which has devastating and even lethal outcomes. If you do give aspirin to your child, monitor them carefully to be sure they are not taking more than the recommended dose. Overdosing is particularly dangerous in children.

One effective way to do this is to keep the aspirin bottle out of their reach. Another is to never give a child an adult version of aspirin. Symptoms in children that require immediate medical attention include changes in behavior, drowsiness, and/or fast or deep breathing.

Consult Your Healthcare Provider

If you are breastfeeding, pregnant or trying to get pregnant, have stomach problems, lupus, asthma, heart failure, high blood pressure, kidney disease, vitamin K deficiency, nasal polyps, anemia, bleeding or clotting problems, or are a smoker, consult your healthcare provider before trying aspirin.

Drug Interactions

It is also a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider before adding aspirin to your current medication mix, as a number of substances may interact with it. Interactions may occur not only with medications, such as other NSAIDs, but also with some herbal supplements or recreational drugs.

Speak to your healthcare provider if you take medication for diabetes, gout, or seizure or if you take hormones, antacids, blood thinning medication, other aspirin products, or are just unsure about combining aspirin with what you currently take.


Take aspirin according to the instructions on the box. Don't take more pills than indicated or dose more frequently. Drink a full glass of water with the dose.

If you take aspirin routinely and you miss a dose, take it as soon as you can, unless it is almost time for the next dose. If you have health problems or are taking other medications, check with your healthcare provider for the dosage information that is right for you.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fuster V, Sweeny JM. Aspirin: a historical and contemporary therapeutic overview. Circulation. 2011;123(7):768-78. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.963843

  2. James DG. Prostaglandins and Inflammation. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 1980 Sep;73(9):683-683. doi:10.1177/014107688007300924

  3. Cryer B, Mahaffey KW. Gastrointestinal ulcers, role of aspirin, and clinical outcomes: pathobiology, diagnosis, and treatment. J Multidiscip Healthc. 2014;7:137-46. doi:10.2147/JMDH.S54324

  4. Berkeley Wellness. Is enteric-coated Aspirin Safer? Berkeley Wellness Newsletter.

  5. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Is it possible to be allergic to aspirin?

  6. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Aspirin: questions and answers.

  7. National Reye's Syndrome Foundation. What is the role of aspirin in triggering Reye's?

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.