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Acetaminophen no better for back pain than placebo, researchers report

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

LONDON — Acetaminophen isn't any better at relieving back pain than a fake pill, despite almost universal recommendations to take the drug, according to the first big trial to test it.

Acetaminophen, sold as Tylenol and Paracetamol, among other names, is recommended in numerous guidelines for back pain, mainly because it has few side effects; past studies have shown it works for other types of pain. But there is no proof it is effective for lower back pain in particular.

In a study, Australian researchers assigned more than 1,600 people with acute lower back pain to either acetaminophen — to a maximum dose of 4,000 mg per day — or a placebo. Scientists found no major difference in the time it took people to recover: Those on acetaminophen got better after 17 days, and those who took dummy pills recovered after 16 days.

The research was financed by the Australian government and GlaxoSmithKline Australia. It was published online on Wednesday in the journal The Lancet.

Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and doctors usually recommend treatments including painkillers, exercise, stretching, physical therapy and old-fashioned remedies such as hot and cold packs.

Some doctors said it was too early to give up on acetaminophen and added most people would get better within a week or two whatever treatment they tried.

“Different strategies will work for different patients,” said Dr. Nigel Mathers, honorary secretary of Britain's Royal College of General Practitioners. “If (acetaminophen) works for you, then continue to take it.”

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