Paracetamol no better than placebo for low back pain, study finds

Thu Jul 24, 2014 5:00am EDT
 
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Paracetamol, a painkiller universally recommended to treat people with acute low back pain, does not speed recovery or reduce pain from the condition, according to the results of a large trial published on Thursday.

A study published in The Lancet medical journal found that the popular pain medicine was no better than placebo, or dummy, pills for hastening recovery from acute bouts of low back pain or easing pain levels, function, sleep or quality of life.

Researchers said the findings challenge the universal endorsement of paracetamol as the first choice painkiller for lower back pain.

"We need to reconsider the universal recommendation to provide paracetamol as a first-line treatment," said Christopher Williams, who led the study at the University of Sydney in Australia.

Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In the United States alone, costs relating to the condition are estimated to be more than $100 billion a year.

Currently, every back pain treatment guideline in the world recommends paracetamol as the first-line analgesic and Williams said this was despite the fact that no previous studies have provided robust evidence that it works in this condition.

Tim Salomons, a pain expert at Britain's University of Reading whose own research has found that cognitive behavioral therapy could be used to treat chronic pain, said this latest study showed the challenge of treating the condition.

"It is vitally important we continuously challenge conventional wisdom about treating pain," he said in an emailed comment. "Even though paracetamol has a good safety profile, every drug has side effects. If the drug is not doing what it is being prescribed to do, pain patients might be better off without."   Continued...