Acetaminophen As Effective As Placebo In Tylenol Back Pain Study

A Tylenol back pain study has found that the drug, whose generic name is acetaminophen, is no more effective at reducing acute lower back pain than a placebo. The study, which was paid for by the Australian government and GlaxoSmithKline Australia, was published Wednesday in the journal The Lancet.

Acetaminophen, sold as Tylenol, Paracetamol, and several other names, is recommended for back pain in numerous medical guidelines, mainly because of its low side effects, reports CBS News. Past studies have also shown that it works for other types of pain. However, there is no proof it is effective for lower back pain.

The study, performed by Australian researchers, is the first of its kind to test acetaminophen for lower back pain. Researchers assigned more than 1,600 people with acute back pain to either take the generic Tylenol or a placebo.

Scientists didn't find much difference in the time it took participants to recover from their pain. Those on acetaminophen recovered after 17 days while those on the placebo recovered after 16 days. The study focused on the acute lower back pain most people get from lack of exercise, bad posture, or a strain.

Bart Koes of Erasmus MC University Center in the Netherlands, who co-authored a commentary that accompanied the study, stated, "Most people would have thought [acetaminophen] would have some effect, so this was a surprise."

Koes added, that, in light of the results of the Tylenol back pain study, doctors should monitor people taking acetaminophen to make sure the drug is working. If not, they should switch patients to stronger medication and advise them to stay active.

WebMD notes that, besides showing no effect in stopping pain, the Tylenol back pain study also found that the painkiller had no effect in easing sleep troubles tied to back pain and it did not improve patients' overall quality of life. Study lead author Dr. Christopher Williams from the George Institute for Global Health at the University of Sydney in Australia, noted that the drug "may not be of primary importance in the management of acute lower back pain."

However, one expert cautioned that it is too early to completely abandon the use of acetaminophen to treat acute lower back pain. Dr. Houman Danesh, director of Integrative Pain Management and assistant professor of anesthesiology at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, stated, "While this is a fascinating study, it is only one study and shouldn't change clinical behavior."

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the maker of Tylenol, added that doctors should consider "the entire body of scientific evidence when making recommendations for changing guidelines." The company added that "the safety and efficacy profile of acetaminophen is supported by more than 150 studies over the past 50 years."

As for the surprising results of the Tylenol back pain study, Dr. Williams explained that "the mechanisms of back pain" could be different from other pain conditions.

[Image by Greencolander]