Taking paracetamol to relieve lower back pain doesn’t work any better than a placebo, a new trial carried out in Australia has found.
Conducted by the George Institute for Global Health at the University of Sydney, the study’s findings suggest people need to reconsider the endorsement of the commonly prescribed drug as a go to pain reliever.
The study also found paracetamol had no effect on short-term pain levels.
To carry out the study, more than 1600 patients with acute lower back pain were sourced from 235 primary care centres in Sydney, and split into three groups.
The first group received up to four weeks of paracetamol three times a day, totalling 3990mg.
The second group took paracetamol only as needed and with a maximum of 4000mg per day; while the final group received the placebo.
Results showed the average recovery time from an episode of lower back pain was 17 days for both the group taking regular doses of paracetamol and those taking the drug as needed.
Those taking the placebo reported a recovery time of 16 days, suggesting no statistical difference between the treatment groups.
The study also found paracetamol had no effect on short-term pain levels, disability, function, sleep quality, or quality of life.
The surprising results were published today in prestigious medial journal, The Lancet.
“Simple analgesics such as paracetamol might not be of primary importance in the management of acute lower back pain,” lead author Dr Christopher Williams told consumer advocacy group Choice.
“The results suggest we need to reconsider the universal recommendation to provide paracetamol as a first-line treatment for lower back pain.”
Senior Author, Associate Professor Christine Lin, also of the George Institute, indicated that while the study found paracetamol does not ease back pain it still has a lot of proven medical benefits.
“While we have shown that paracetamol does not speed recovery from sudden, acute back pain, there is evidence that paracetamol works to relieve pain for a range of other conditions, such as headaches, some acute musculoskeletal conditions, toothache, and for pain after surgery.”
Associate Professor Lin stressed it was important to remain as active as possible when dealing with acute back pain.
“An active approach is probably more important than any therapy a person may receive. Heat wraps and heat packs are simple methods that a person can use to help with their pain.”