90% of back pain sufferers may put themselves at risk with ‘harmless’ paracetamol
26 million people in the UK regularly suffer from a bad back – with 90% of them relying on paracetamol to relieve pain
Evidence shows that the drug is not only ineffective, but may also cause harm when taken long-term
Stats reveal that half of back pain sufferers are in pain for months at a time, with over a quarter suffering for longer than a year
Worryingly over half of sufferers say it was their GP or HCP who recommended they take paracetamol to deal with the pain
Concerned pain experts are calling for a change in conventional wisdom when it comes to treating back pain, with a focus on safer, drug-free options
The scope of the problem
About 26 million people suffer from lower back pain each year in the UK, and it remains the number one cause of disability worldwide. 9 out of 10 sufferers in the UK describe their back pain as moderate to severe.
Common treatments – and drawbacks
Keeping a packet of paracetamol in the bathroom cabinet is frequently viewed as the safest and most effective way to tackle regular back pain – with new figures confirming that 90% of back pain sufferers regularly turn to the ‘everyday’ painkiller during periods of discomfort. However, emerging evidence suggests that these sufferers may be deriving little or no benefit – with a recent study from The Lancet revealing that paracetamol is no better for back pain than placebo.
Furthermore, chronic back pain sufferers may be putting themselves at risk of a host of serious health conditions; additional studies have linked long-term use of the drug to a host of serious side-effects such as liver damage, heart failure and kidney problems. Despite this, over half of those surveyed were recommended the drug by their GP or pharmacist.
With new stats revealing that over half of back pain suffers are in pain for months on end – and a quarter suffering for longer than a year at a time – concerned experts are calling for the universal endorsement of paracetamol in medical guidelines to be reconsidered. Professor Andrew Moore, a leading researcher in pain at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, says: “Paracetamol is far from an innocuous drug. There may be some patients who will benefit from its use, but they will be very few in number. Risk of harm will outweigh the benefit for those patients who are not getting pain relief.”
Experts now believe that improved focus on drug-free alternatives is warranted. Dr Rod Hughes, consultant rheumatologist at St Peter’s Hospital, Surrey suggests “If you do experience lower back pain, there are effective drug-free alternatives. There is a large body of evidence supporting the use of GOPO – a compound derived from rose-hip – in musculoskeletal conditions, with research indicating that it can effectively relieve acute exacerbations of chronic back pain. The natural anti-inflammatory properties of GOPO make it a viable replacement to paracetamol in cases of non-specific lower back pain, without the risk of harmful side effects”.