Standard painkillers 'no use' for back pain
Paracetamol painkillers are no better than a placebo for speeding the recovery of people suffering lower back pain, a study has found.
Doctors should now look at whether the over-the-counter drug should be the first choice treatment for people with the hugely debilitating condition, scientists said.
The Australian study of more than 1,500 patients, published today in the Lancet, found that patients given the common analgesic recovered no more quickly than those given a useless substitute.
Dr Christopher Williams, who led the research, said: "Simple analgesics such as paracetamol might not be of primary importance in the management of acute lower back pain.
"The results suggest we need to reconsider the universal recommendation to provide paracetamol as a first-line treatment for low-back pain."
The Paracetamol for Low-Back Pain Study (PACE) studied 1,652 people with acute low-back pain at 235 care centres in Sydney, Australia.
They randomly received one of three treatments - up to four weeks of paracetamol in regular doses, paracetamol as they needed it or a placebo.
They all also received "advice and reassurance" and follow-up assistance for three months.
All three groups returned similar figures for recovery time, with the placebo group having a median recovery time of 16 days, a day faster than the other two groups.
Dr Williams also suggested that, given his team's results, it was worth looking at whether advice and reassurance for sufferers was a more effective form of treatment than drugs.
The research, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and GlaxoSmithKline, was welcomed by other scientists who called for more research to be carried out.