Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are relatively ineffective for treating back pain, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the George Institute for Global Health, in Australia, analyzed data from 35 randomized, placebo-controlled trials to determine the efficacy and safety of NSAIDs for spinal pain. The trials included more than 6,000 patients, and researchers found that only one in six patients treated with NSAIDs experienced significant pain reduction.
“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,” Manuela Ferreira, PhD, lead researcher and senior research fellow at the George Institute and the Institute of Bone and Joint Research, said in a press release. “They do reduce the level of pain, but only very slightly, and arguably not of any clinical significance.”
This study builds on previous work conducted by the George Institute exploring the effectiveness of existing medicines for treating back pain. Prior research has suggested that acetaminophen provides little benefit over placebo for patients with low back pain (Lancet 2014;384:1586-1596).
The researchers also found that patients taking NSAIDs were 2.5 times more likely to have gastrointestinal problems such as stomach ulcers and bleeding. These side effects of NSAIDs reinforce the need to find better pain relief alternatives, according to the researchers.
“Millions of Australians are taking drugs that not only don’t work well, they’re causing harm,” Gustavo Machado, study author and research fellow at the institution, said in a press release. “We need treatments that actually provide substantial relief of these people’s symptoms.”
The findings were published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases on Feb. 2 2017