SYDNEY — Got back pain? Turns out the over-the-counter treatments in your medicine cabinet may be causing you more harm than relief. A new study finds that common painkillers used to treat a nagging back offer little help while increasing the risk for other frustrating side effects.
The study, researched at The George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia, found that only one in six people experienced significant relief from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin), or naproxen (Aleve).
It also found that NSAIDs increased the risk of gastrointestinal side effects by 2.5 times. The medications can cause heartburn and irritation of the stomach, and in more serious cases ulcers or internal bleeding.
“Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is commonly managed by prescribing medicines such as anti-inflammatories. But our results show anti-inflammatory drugs actually only provide very limited short term pain relief,” lead author Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira said in a release. “They do reduce the level of pain, but only very slightly, and arguably not of any clinical significance.”
Ferreira said the study brings to light just how critical the need for effective back pain treatment is, especially in Australia, where 80 percent of citizens report dealing with back pain at some point in their lives.
“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 Australians who suffer from this debilitating condition every year,” said Ferreira, who is also a senior research fellow at the institute.
The researchers examined 35 randomized placebo-controlled trials involving 6,000 participants who used NSAIDs to treat their back pain over an average of seven days.
Research Fellow Gustavo Machado said back pain sufferers should also turn to more conventional therapies for most effective prevention of pain. “We know that education and exercise programs can substantially reduce the risk of developing low back pain,” he said.