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Taking Tylenol doesn’t Speed Recovery from Low Back Pain or Reduce Symptoms more than Placebo

Health care providers who recommend that low back pain patients take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help them recover from and relieve bouts with low back pain might rethink that recommendation. A new study of nearly 1,700 acute low back pain patients found, compared to placebo, taking the pain reliever does not decrease recovery time, decrease pain, or improve function, sleep or quality of life.

Australian researchers reported their findings July 24, 2014 in the scientific journal The Lancet.

National clinical guidelines (the documents health care providers often refer to when recommending approaches to care) recommend paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, as the first choice treatment for acute low back pain. Yet there have been no big, credible studies to prove the remedy works.

Researchers in this study randomly assigned 1,652 adults with acute low back pain to receive: up to four weeks of paracetamol three times a day, which is equivalent to 3,990 mg a day); paracetamol as needed (maximum 4,000 mg a day); or placebo, which is a fake medication.

Researchers followed up with the patients at three months and found people who took the medication recovered in an average 17 days, while those who took the fake medication recovered in an average 16 days.

Paracetamol also didn’t help with symptoms, including short-term pain levels, disability, function, sleep quality or quality of life.

Given that medications, including acetaminophen, have side effects, this study highlights the need to re-examine clinical practice when it comes to low back pain treatment. People who take Tylenol to relieve back pain might also consider not taking the medication and seeking other non-drug approaches, such as physical therapy.

Physical therapists are trained to help low back pain patients resume life, avoid future back pain and improve strength, flexibility, posture and balance (without the use of drugs). For more information about what a physical therapist can do for your back pain, contact A Physical Therapist, Inc.

A Physical Therapist, Inc., is a one-on-one physical therapy clinic in Delray Beach, Fla., and Harrisburg, Penn. For patients in Palm Beach County, A Physical Therapist, Inc., is easily accessible from Boca Raton or Boynton Beach. For patients in Dauphin County, A Physical Therapist, Inc., is easily accessible from Hershey and Marysville.

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