Study Suggests Ibuprofen Offers no Benefit in Treating Back Pain

A study that examined 6,000 people suffering with back pain found that drugs such as ibuprofen have no more than placebo benefits.

Although NSAIDs did reduce pain to some extent, the extent of this was so minimal that researchers concluded it was no better than a sugar pill.

NSAIDs reduced pain and disability compared with the placebo in the immediate term (mean difference (MD) -9.2, 95% confidence interval [CI] -11.1 to -7.3), while NSAIDs reduced pain and disability compared with the placebo in the short-term (MD -7.7, 95% CI -11.4 to -4.1).

Both of these results were considered statistically insignificant.

Furthermore, those taking NSAIDs were at greater risk of gastrointestinal problems compared with those taking a placebo.

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia and was funded by the Department of Education and Training of Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council Australia and Sydney Medical School.

Researchers involved in the study concluded that ibuprofen really offers little assistance in this area.

“NSAIDs do not provide a clinically important effect on spinal pain, and six patients must be treated with NSAIDs for one patient to achieve a clinically important benefit in the short-term.”

They add that “when this result is taken together with those from recent reviews on paracetamol and opioids, it is now clear that the three most widely used, and guideline-recommended medicines for spinal pain do not provide clinically important effects over placebo. There is an urgent need to develop new analgesics for spinal pain.”

While some media reporting of the story has been exaggerated, the consensus that this is a significant study is considered to be rather authoritative.

This systematic literature review and meta-analysis of 35 randomised controlled trials could contradict the UK guidance that NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and high-dose aspirin can be used to ease back pain.

Further research is needed to corroborate this, and it is also important to note that researchers focused on the oral consumption of NSAIDs.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.


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