Do Pain Killers Work For Back Pain?
Author: Deb Date Posted:14 August 2017
Do Pain Killers Work for Back Pain?
Before yoga class commences, the teacher asks everyone what their niggle is and what part of their body they would like to work on. Most of us say lower back.
Lower back pain is amazingly common so it’s at least comforting to know that it is a problem shared! About 70-90% of Australians will be affected by back pain at some stage in their life. Back pain is also the most common form of chronic pain.
Recommended treatment for back pain
Pain Australian and the APA (Australian Physiotherapy Association) advocate a ‘multidisciplinary’ or ‘multidimensional approach’ for relieving back pain, including exercise, good diet, massage, reducing weight, physiotherapy and medication to self-manage the pain. It’s the medication part that I’m interested in and its potential for minimising back pain.
What the research says about painkillers
There has been some recent research into prescribed medications for back pain with results showing them to be only a slight improvement compared to the placebo effect. But these aren’t sugar pills and like most chemical laden medications, painkillers are loaded with possible side effects that read like a health nightmare.
Recent research by the George Institute in Sydney have looked at common painkillers prescribed in managing back pain, like paracetamol and codeine, and found they do little to provide relief. Even a more recent research study looked at over 6,000 patients with spinal pain (back pain, neck pain and sciatica) where one group were given the anti-inflammatory and another the placebo. The result was a less than 10% benefit of taking the anti-inflammatory over the placebo. With acute or chronic pain, this needs to be much higher to outweigh the associated side effects that these drugs can present. Side effects being the possibility of gastrointestinal haemorrhage and ulcers. The George Institute found patients taking medicated pain killers were 2.5 times more likely to experience these problems.
It is useful to acknowledge the often narcissistic relationship between ruthless pharmaceutical companies and doctors who often know better but financial reward and convenience outweigh patient well-being. This acknowledgement, coupled with a determination to find gentler and more supportive approaches, may just be enough to change some of our long-held perceptions of drugs and find healthier routes to safely relieve back pain.
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* "The Drugs Don’t work, say back pain researchers" http://www.georgeinstitute.org/media-releases/the-drugs-dont-work-say-back-pain-researchers
*ABC podcast Health Report – Anti-inflammatories for back pain http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/healthreport/anti-inflammatories-for-back-pain/8244570