Sitting for too long, poor posture, heavy lifting, or just the ageing process can all lead to lower back pain. It’s a common complaint, but can also become chronic, with pain lasting for months.
It can have a significant effect on people’s health and mobility, which means finding the right pain medication can be life-changing. So, what is the most effective type of pain medication for back pain? A study released by the Journal of Orthopaedic Research recently asked this question.
For the study, the researchers looked at data that had been collected in 18 clinical trials for lower back pain that lasted for up to 12 weeks. They examined the effects of:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Paracetamol and Panadol)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and PediaCare); naproxen (Aleve, Naxen, Naprosyn, Stirlescent); and celecoxib (Celebrex, Elyxyb)
- Muscle relaxers, which are only available with a prescription
The results of the study show that the best combination of medication for short-term lower back pain was an NSAID combined with a prescription muscle relaxer. This combination was effective in reducing pain and improving mobility after a week.
They also found that taking acetaminophen alone did not reduce pain significantly, but taking it alongside an NSAID did lead to a bigger improvement in pain than an NSAID on its own.
It’s estimated that up to 80% of people will experience lower back pain in their lifetime, with some people more at risk due to being overweight or having a sedentary lifestyle.
Although painkillers can help with the pain, the researchers also warn that side effects need to be considered. NSAIDs can cause indigestion, diarrhoea, headaches, and dizziness and taking acetaminophen for long periods of time is associated with liver damage.
Dr Eliana Cardozo, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City said that exercise is one of the best ways to improve back pain. She said: “People can start some exercises right away, such as gentle stretching and core stabilizing exercises, which can strengthen the back. Now, these are not sit-ups or crunches — so seeing a physical therapist to get some starting exercises can be very helpful.”