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Pain medication more harm than good?

Tuesday, 7th February, 2017

NO RELIEF: New treatments are needed for back pain as NSAIDs prove to be ineffective.

BACK pain sufferers are wasting money and risking their health taking common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs according to new research.

A study by the George Institute for Global Health has revealed that patients taking the drugs (also known as NSAIDs) are 2.5 times more likely to suffer gastro-intestinal problems such as stomach ulcers and bleeding, but only one in six achieve any significant reduction in pain.

The study is the latest work from the 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 said the study highlights an urgent need to develop new therapies to treat back pain, which affects 80 per cent of Australians during their lifetime.

"Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is commonly managed by prescribing medicines such as anti-inflammatories," associate professor Ferreira said.

"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.

"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 to the many millions of Australians who suffer from this debilitating condition every year."

The research team examined 35 trials involving more than 6000 people.

The George Institute research fellow Gustavo Machado said millions of Australians were taking drugs that didn't work very well, and that were causing harm.

"We need treatments that will actually provide substantial relief of these people's symptoms," he said.

"Better still, we need a stronger focus on preventing back pain in the first place. We know that education and exercise programs can substantially reduce the risk of developing low back pain."

Most clinical guidelines currently recommend NSAIDs as the second-line painkillers after paracetamol, with opioids as third choice.


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