Common painkillers used for back pain simply do not work for most people, says a study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like aspirin, Aleve and Advil, only provide one-in-six patients with back pain any significant reduction in pain. And, as is well documented, these painkillers come with gastrointestinal side effects.
The study from The George Institute for Global Health questioned the effectiveness of existing medicines for treating back pain. Earlier research has already demonstrated paracetamol is ineffective.
The researchers, which examined 35 trials involving more than 6,000 people, also found patients taking anti-inflammatories were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from stomach ulcers and bleeding.
Lead author Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira says the study highlights an urgent need to develop new therapies to treat back pain and reduce side effects.
“Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is commonly managed by prescribing medicines such as anti-inflammatories. But our results show anti-inflammatory drugs actually only provide very limited short term pain relief. They do reduce the level of pain, but only very slightly, and arguably not of any clinical significance,” said Prof. Ferreira.
“When you factor in the side effects which are very common, it becomes clear that these drugs are not the answer to providing pain relief to the many millions of Australians who suffer from this debilitating condition every year,” he added.
Research Fellow Gustavo Machado, of The George Institute and the School of Medicine at the University of Sydney, said, “Millions of Australians are taking drugs that not only don’t work very well, they’re causing harm. We need treatments that will actually provide substantial relief of these people’s symptoms.
“Better still we need a stronger focus on preventing back pain in the first place. We know that education and exercise programs can substantially reduce the risk of developing low back pain.”
Most clinical guidelines currently recommend NSAIDs as the second line analgesics after paracetamol, with opioids coming at third choice.