Study Says Tylenol Ineffective for Lower Back Pain

lower back pain

Lower back pain is one of the most common ailments that people experience. In fact, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, back pain is second only to headaches when it comes to the most common neurological ailments in the U.S. It is the number one cause of job-related disabilities, and it’s estimated that people in the U.S. spend a total of around $50 billion on lower back pain treatment every year. The most common treatment recommended by doctors involves acetaminophen, usually in the form of Tylenol or paracetamol. Now, however, an Australian study suggests that acetaminophen may be no more effective in treating lower back pain than a placebo. Doctors typically recommend Tylenol or paracetamol because of their lack of side effects. The study is the first to address these medications’ effectiveness for treating back pain.

Researchers Surprised by Results

The study involved 1,652 sufferers of acute lower back pain whose average age was 45. Participants were chosen from 235 different primary care facilities in Sydney. They were then randomly divided into three groups that would receive four weeks of treatment.

  • The first group took paracetamol regularly three times per day (a total of 3990 mg daily)
  • The second group took paracetamol as needed (up to 4000 mg daily)
  • The third group took a placebo

When the study results were analyzed, it was found that participants in all three groups took about the same amount of time to recover. In fact, the median recovery time for the placebo group was 16 days, while the other two groups saw a median recovery time of 17 days. Paracetamol was also found to have no effect on disability, function, short-term pain, quality of sleep, and overall quality of life. Bart Koes, co-author of the commentary on the study, stated that the results are surprising. He went on to state that doctors should begin monitoring sufferers of lower back pain more closely to see if their acetaminophen treatments are actually working.

Exercise Can Treat Lower Back Pain

One physical therapist, Chris Mercer of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in Britain, stated that exercise is a known way of effectively treating lower back pain. While commenting on the study, he stressed that back pain sufferers should not just take to their beds. Exercise is known to strengthen abdominal and back muscles, which can not only treat but prevent back pain. Both doctors and physical therapists can often recommend gentle exercises and activities that can aid in the recovery process. Those who suffer from chronic back pain can often benefit from a regiment of stretching, swimming and walking guided by a doctor. Yoga is also sometimes used as a recovery method. Patients may experience some pain at the beginning of these regiments, but if all goes well, the pain will subside as muscles strengthen. Again, these activities should be monitored by a doctor or physical therapist.

Tylenol for Lower Back Pain: The Bottom Line

As of now, many doctors are of the opinion that more research will need to be done before acetaminophen will stop being recommended. In part of Bart Koes’ commentary, he states that Tylenol and paracetamol are likely to still provide relief for certain patients despite the results of this study. Different patients and different conditions will always be affected differently by certain medications.

Anybody who is currently taking acetaminophen for their lower back pain should not stop if they truly feel it is helping them. At the same time, some doctors may want to prescribe something a bit stronger if they have any suspicion that Tylenol is not as effective as it should be. The full press release concerning the study can be read here.

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