Low back pain is a common problem that most people experience at some point in their lives while osteoarthritis, another painful condition that affects the hip and knees, is the 11th highest contributor to global disability. The first thing that most people do when they experience pain is to take a painkiller. However, a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reports that popular painkiller Paracetamol or Tylenol (as it is also called) does not appear to reduce low back pain and offers little relief for arthritis of the hip and knees.
Currently, Tylenol is recommended by most international clinical guidelines as the first line treatment for back aches and osteoarthritis. However, the study found that it is ineffective in treating back aches and provides minimal short-term benefits for people with osteoarthritis.
The researchers reviewed data from 13 randomized controlled trials. They evaluated ten studies related to osteoarthritis of the hip or knee and three studies related to back pain, and examined the use of the painkiller to treat both these conditions. The study analyzed the effect the drug had on the reduction of pain intensity, improvement of disability and quality of life (along with safety and patient adherence). The key findings of the study are as follows
- Paracetamol was ineffective in lowering patient disability or enhancing quality of life of people with low back pain.
- In patients with osteoarthritis, the pain killer provided only a small, clinically insignificant improvement.
- The use of this medicine has direct association with higher risk of liver toxicity in patients suffering from back aches and hip and knee arthritis. Such patients were 4 times more likely to have abnormal results on liver function tests when compared to those taking placebo pills.
Based on the study results, researchers urge physicians to rethink their endorsement of Paracetamol, as it is no more effective than a placebo. Moreover, the drug is linked with safety issues.
The researchers suggest that physical therapy exercises, particularly strengthening exercises, are better and more effective options for managing common, painful disabling conditions. Weight control also offers important benefits for patients with arthritis.