Common Painkillers Don’t Ease Back Pain, Study Suggests
Painkillers like aspirin, Aleve and Advil don’t help most people with back pain, a new review finds.
The researchers estimated that only one in six people gained a benefit from taking these nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The findings raise the prospect that no over-the-counter painkillers really ease back pain, at least in the short term, and some may raise the risk of gastrointestinal problems.
“There are other effective and safer strategies to manage spinal pain,” said review author Gustavo Machado. He is a research fellow with the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia.
The studies, which tracked about 6,000 people, “showed that commonly used NSAIDs have only small effects on pain relief and improvement of function,” Machado said. “Moreover, these small effects may not be perceived as important for most patients with spinal pain.”
Dr. Benjamin Friedman is an associate professor of emergency medicine with Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. He estimated that the painkillers might be even more ineffective than the review suggests, with fewer than one in 10 patients getting substantial relief.
What should patients with back pain do? Friedman said he often recommends the drugs even though they’re not likely to provide benefits.
“The happiest back pain patients I know are the ones who have found relief with some type of complementary therapy such as yoga, massage or stretching,” Friedman noted.