By Gustavo Machado, George Institute for Global Health and Manuela L Ferreira, George Institute for Global Health
How’s your back? About a quarter of Australia’s population experience a back pain episode at any point in time, and nearly all of us (around 85%) will have at least one lifetime experience with back pain.
But treating it seems very difficult. Backing up a 2015 study showing paracetamol is ineffective for back pain, our latest research shows non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Nurofen and Voltaren, provide minimal benefits and high risk of side effects.
Yet it’s not a cause for despair. There are effective approaches to managing back pain, but they’re not as simple as taking a pill.
A move away from oral painkillers.
People with back pain are usually told by their health care practitioners to take analgesic medications to relieve their pain.
Out of date Australian guidelines for managing back pain recommend paracetamol as first choice analgesic, NSAIDs as second, and oral opioids as the third line medicines. Paracetamol is still the most purchased over-the-counter painkiller in Australia, but we’ve shown it to be ineffective for back pain.
The UK 2017 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines now no longer recommend paracetamol as a stand-alone intervention for back pain. In the UK, NSAIDs are recommended as the analgesic of first choice for back pain, and opioids as second.