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Back pain – Are pain killers really effective?

August 26, 2015

79.2% of all Australians will experience some sort of lower back pain at one point in their life (Australia’s Health 2008) and for many people an episode of lower back pain can interfere with their activities of daily living. The good news is that 90% of people suffering an episode of back pain will recover within 4-6 weeks (US/ UK Guideline) but during that time it’s easy to reach into the cupboard for some sort of pain relief in the form of Panadol or Nurofen. But are these pain killers really effective?Lumbar Spine Skeletal S

Recent research by universities and hospitals in Sydney (Research article) has shown that paracetamol (Panadol) may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Whilst it is currently recommended as a ‘go to’ for pain relief, this review of the evidence found that paracetamol was no more effective than placebo in the treatment of lower back pain. Participants in the trials who took paracetamol experienced no greater improvement in pain or disability when compared to people who were given a placebo treatment.

Research surrounding the effectiveness of other commonly used pain killers such as Nurofen and Voltaren is slightly more promising. A review of the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs (, including these two, found that there was a small improvement in pain and functioning when these pain killers were taken.

So if pain killers aren’t the answer to your back pain what is?

1)      Come and see Sally or Ron for an assessment and obtain a clearer picture of where your pain might be coming from and how to best deal with it.

2)      Keep moving! Bed rest can make your back pain worse and stop you getting any better. You don’t have to go running a personal best 10km but try going for a walk and continuing on with your usual activities.

3)      Try and maintain your spine’s natural curves. This includes when sitting; ensure you have good posture. Your hips, knees and ankles should all be in line and your thighs should be parallel to the ground with feet flat on the floor. Ensure any screens you are looking at are at head height and avoid slumping forward by having adequate back support.

4)      Stay positive! Being overly cautious and becoming worried about your back pain can have the opposite effect to what you want and prolong your back pain. Experiencing pain does not necessarily mean that you are causing any damage to your back and remember most cases of back pain will get better within 4 weeks.

5)      To help avoid a flare up of your back pain in the first place, learn to lift correctly. Lots of incidences of back pain are caused by a combination of bending and twisting of the back. If you are picking something up, bend down through your knees rather than curving your back. You should aim to keep your back in its neutral position. Place yourself squarely in front of the object that you are lifting so that you are not twisting.

Mary Somers

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