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Taking painkillers for low back pain may do more harm than good
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

People often turn to painkillers such as ibuprofen when they have low back pain—but the drugs don’t work and could cause unwelcome side effects. In other words, the risks outweigh the benefits, a new study has found.

Only one in six people who use an NSAID (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug) painkiller get any relief for their back pain, say researchers. Earlier studies had concluded that paracetamol and opioids were also ineffective.

Not only don't the drugs work, they cause serious side effects. An NSAID more than doubles the risk of gastro-intestinal problems, say researchers at the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney.

They took a fresh look at 35 studies that had involved more than 6,000 people suffering from low back pain, which is one of the most common health problems, affecting around 80 per cent of the adult population at some point in their lives.

If there is any benefit, it's only very slight and certainly isn't worth it compared to the problems the drugs can cause, the researchers say.

One of the researchers, Manuela Ferreira, said: "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 people who suffer from this debilitating condition every year."

Instead, a more effective therapy is urgently needed, and researchers need to explore just why low back pain is so prevalent.


(Source: Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 2017; doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2016-210597)

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