Australian study shows NSAIDs ineffective for back pain

March 7, 2017   |   Evidence in Integrative Healthcare

An Australian study published in the January 2017 Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil) relatively ineffective for treating back pain. This study examined 35 randomized, placebo-controlled trials, encompassing 6,000 patients with the goal of determining the effectiveness and safety of NSAIDs for spinal pain. The drugs failed in the treatment of back pain with the authors stating, “At present, there are no simple analgesics that provide clinically important effects for spinal pain over placebo.” Researchers also found that patients taking NSAIDs were 2.5 times more likely to have gastrointestinal problems such as stomach ulcers and bleedings, especially prevalent in the elderly population. Investigator Gustavo Machado stated, “Millions of Australians are taking drugs that not only don’t work well, they’re causing harm.”

In the US NSAIDs are the second leading cause of peptic ulcers resulting in 100,000 hospitalizations, $2 billion in additional health care costs, and 17,000 deaths each year. This new study dovetails well with George Institute for Global Health’s earlier study on acetaminophen e.g., Tylenol revealing this common drug was no better than placebo either while at the same time being the leading cause of acute liver failure in the US. As Mr. Machado stated, “We need treatments that actually provide substantial relief of these people’s symptoms.” Fortunately there are many integrative healthcare approaches – including chiropractic, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, and massage therapy – that are effective for back pain without the side effects seen with these medications.