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New Study Says Skip the Drugs for Back Pain

Drugs are no longer the first option to manage pain

New Study Says Skip the Drugs for Back Pain

Drug Free Approach More Effective for Back Pain

On February 14, 2017 the American College of Physicians (ACP) released a report on the treatment of low-back pain, which recommends patients turn to noninvasive and alternative remedies before opening their medicine cabinets. The study followed patients suffering from acute (pain lasting fewer than 4 weeks), subacute (4-12 weeks), and chronic (+12 weeks) low-back pain, and does not necessarily apply to people suffering from radicular low back pain, more commonly known as sciatica.

Key Findings for Back Pain:

  • Low-back pain is one of the most common reasons patients in the US visit their doctors. In 2006, a study estimated that, including healthcare costs and time lost from work, low-back pain cost the American public about $100 billion.
  • Using acetaminophen (found in brand name Tylenol) to relieve low-back pain was found to be as effective as using a placebo. However, continued use of acetaminophen poses the risk of liver damage.
  • The study authors recommend most patients with any type of low-back pain should first try non-drug therapies, such as massage, spinal manipulation by a chiropractor, or applying heat, only turning to pharmacological treatments if the former prove ineffective.
  • Patients with chronic low-back pain respond more strongly to nondrug therapies such as exercise, acupuncture, and mindfulness-based stress reduction according to the study.
  • Pharmacological treatment may still be necessary if patients do not respond to alternative treatments. The study authors suggest discussing the drug products with your doctor thoroughly and selecting a treatment that would present the least health risks for you.

Overall, the ACP study suggests that alternative therapies for low-back pain are sometimes more effective and pose lower health risks than pharmacological treatments. Of course, if spinal manipulation, acupuncture, massage, or exercise does not resolve your pain issues, you should approach your doctor about possible low-risk drug treatments.

In an article for the Wall Street Journal covering this report, the president of ACP, Nitin Damle stated, “About one-quarter of U.S. adults have had back pain in the past few months. We are advocating for really trying the non-pharmacologic approach initially, especially for acute and subacute back pain.”

Read more about the ACP study here.

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