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Pain killers (NSAIDs) such as Advil, Aspirin, Motrin, Proprinal, Tylenol, etc. are not much more helpful than placebo and users are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from stomach problems, according to a comprehensive study.

A group of Australian researchers analyzed 35 peer-reviewed trials involving 6,065 patients on the use of common pain killers [NSAIDs] such as ibuprofen for back pain, and  published a comprehensive study [Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for spinal pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Gustavo C Machado, Chris G Maher, Paulo H Ferreira, Richard O Day, Marina B Pinheiro, Manuela L Ferreira] in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases in February, 2017.

The study found that none of the drugs offered any significant relief for back-pain sufferers, and the effect was too small to be considered clinically important, meanwhile users were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from problems such as stomach ulcers or bleeding 

Lead author of the paper, Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira from the George Institute for Global Health  in Australia, indicated that back pain was the leading cause of disability worldwide and was commonly managed by prescribing pain killers,  and guidelines should be updated to change the situation given the new findings.

“These drugs are effective for other conditions but for people with back pain, we believe there is a bigger role for other treatments,” she said.

“We are not arguing that no pain relief should be used, but people using these types should be aware the benefits are small and that their side effects can be harmful, and that discussing with their doctors the benefit of other treatments including exercise may be worthwhile.”

Professor Chris Del Mar,  professor of public health at Bond University in Queensland, Australia, said both doctors and patients tended to believe medicines for back pain were more effective than the evidence shows.

 “It’s hard for doctors to say to people, ‘I don’t have anything that will make much of a difference to your back pain, so grit your teeth and bear it’,” he said.

“People want to hear, ‘I’ll give you some pills and we’ll make you feel better’, so it’s a cognitive bias.”