What is a rescue medication? When I talked to my doctor about flareups of my back pain, this idea was mentioned.
Rescue medications, also called quick-relief or fast-acting medications, usually work right away to relieve your symptoms when they occur. These types of drugs are often used for conditions like asthma or back pain where there is a need for immediate help.

For example with asthma, rescue medication inhaled directly into the lungs opens up the airways and relieves wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath within minutes. Rescue medications are also used for patients with musculoskeletal pain. For example, patients with chronic low back pain that flares up occasionally may need a rescue drug to get through the flare-up.

Rescue medications don't have a long-term effect. That's why some patients use what's called a controller medication. This is a preventive or maintenance medication. It's taken long-term on a regular basis and work over a period of time to control and help prevent symptoms from occurring.

As with any chronic pain condition, the goal is to avoid dependence on drugs. But in some cases, this isn't possible. Rescue and controller medications may be part of an overall management plan that also includes exercise, relaxation techniques, and behavioral changes.