Jul 25, 2014

    Paracetamol 'doesn't help with' lower-back pain


    PARACETAMOL, a painkiller universally recommended to treat people with acute lower-back pain, does not speed recovery or reduce pain from the condition, according to the results of a large trial published yesterday.

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

    Researchers said the findings challenge the 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.

    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 US$100 billion (S$120 billion) a year.

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

    In the trial, 1,652 people from Sydney with acute lower-back pain were randomly assigned to receive up to four weeks of paracetamol, either in regular doses three times a day, or as needed, or to receive placebos.

    Christine Lin, an associate professor at the George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney, who also worked on the study, said: "While we have shown that paracetamol does not speed recovery from acute back pain, there is evidence that paracetamol works to relieve pain for a range of other conditions, such as headaches."