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The drugs provide little benefit, says back pain researchers

Media release: 
06/02/2017

Commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat back pain provide little benefit, but cause side effects, according to new research from The George Institute for Global Health.

The findings of the systematic review, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, reveal only one in six patients treated with the pills, also known as NSAIDs, achieve any significant reduction in pain.

The study is the latest work from The George Institute questioning the effectiveness of existing medicines for treating back pain. Earlier research has already demonstrated paracetamol is ineffective and opioids provide minimal benefit over placebo.

Lead author Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira says the study highlights an urgent need to develop new therapies to treat back pain.

A/Prof Ferreira, Senior Research Fellow at The George Institute and at the Institute of Bone and Joint Research, said: “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. They do reduce the level of pain, but only very slightly, and arguably not of any clinical significance.”

A/Prof Ferreira added: “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.”
The team at The George Institute, which examined 35 trials involving more than 6000 people, also found patients taking anti-inflammatories were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from gastro-intestinal problems such as stomach ulcers and bleeding.

Professor Craig Anderson, Executive Director of the George Institute, China said, “We need treatments which will provide real relief for the people with pain back.  Furthermore, prevention measures such as specific types of exercise programs require evaluation as well. ”