Anti-inflammatory drugs ‘no better than placebo’ for back pain: study

Popular anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, have little impact on lower back and neck pain, an Australian study has found.

A senior research fellow at the George Institute for Global Health reviewed the findings of 35 clinical trials of 6,000 patients using anti-inflammatory pain relieving drugs.

“Compared with placebo, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) do not provide a clinically important effect on spinal pain,” Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira said.

Researchers found six patients had to be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs for one patient to achieve a clinically important benefit in the short-term.

And the drugs come with side effects.

“Our safety analysis revealed NSAIDs increased the risk of gastrointestinal side effects by 2.5 times, compared to placebo,” Dr Ferreira said.

Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, with many patients told to take pain medications to relieve symptoms.

Earlier research by the George Institute found paracetamol was also ineffective for back pain.

“When this result is taken together with those from recent reviews on paracetamol and opioids, it is now clear that the three most widely used, and guideline-recommended medicines for spinal pain do not provide clinically important effects over placebo,” she said.

She said the results highlight an urgent need to develop new therapies to treat back pain, a condition which affects 80 per cent of Australians at some time during their life.

Key findings:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs not clinically better for back pain than placebo
  • Risk of gastrointestinal side effects
  • Need for find better ways to treat pain

Source: ABC online. By medical reporter Sophie Scott