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Paracetamol is no good for back pain

Woman having back painIn the UK today (1st April 2015) a study into the use of Paracetamol for the treatment of back pain has made the national headlines.

 As a Pilates instructor who has worked with hundreds of people with back pain over the last 12 years, my ears pricked up when I heard this on the lunchtime news.  A quick Google search brought up this article on the BBC website which nicely summarises the findings.  However, I know that the media like to pick and choose the juicy bits of information from research papers so I headed over to the British Medical Journal website where whole report is published.  These are the key points:

The objective of the study was to “investigate the efficacy and safety of paracetamol (acetaminophen) in the management of spinal pain and osteoarthritis of the hip or knee”. 

The authors pulled together reports from 13 separate trials: 10 trials (3541 patients) looked specifically at the efficacy of paracetamol for people with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip, 3 trials (1825 patients) focused on people with low back pain.   They did not identify any trials in people with neck pain.

When tested against a placebo for low back pain, the researchers found that paracetamol had no effect on pain intensity or quality of life.  With regard to hip or knee osteoarthritis, they found that there was a “significant small effect favouring paracetamol for pain” and “a significant but small benefit of paracetamol was found for short term reduction in disability”.  The research also revealed that “participants taking paracetamol are nearly four times more likely to have abnormal results on liver function tests than participants taking placebo”.

The implications of this study are huge.  It is estimated that 26 million people in the UK suffer with back pain every year and if you visit your doctor to get help with your back problems, s/he will more than likely recommend that you take paracetamol as per the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines.   However, according to the BBC, the NHS is now going to review their guidelines.

What if you are one of the 26 million back pain suffers?  Firstly, you MUST speak to your doctor before stopping or changing your medication.

And there are many positive steps that you can take to ease the pain such as exercising regularly, reducing your stress levels and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

I’m really interested to hear from you about how you manage your back pain.  Do you regularly take pain killers? What have you found works for you?  Please comment below or email me:



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