Is Paracetamol Effective for Acute Low Back Pain?

Researchers from The George Institute, the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales are a step closer to answering this important question after finishing recruitment for the Paracetamol for Acute Low Back Pain (PACE) study.

Back pain is leading cause of disability globally. Until now there have been no studies directly testing how effective paracetamol is in people with back pain, with most people not taking the appropriate dose of paracetamol which subsequently may reduce its effect.

According to Associate Professor Jane Latimer from The George Institute, most back pain is uncomplicated and staying active and simple pain relief medicines like paracetamol taken at regular intervals are recommended as the best first line treatment.

"Most people with back pain are often prescribed more complex medications without first trying the safer alternative of paracetamol", Associate Professor Latimer said.

"Another concern is that many Australians are seeking treatments for their back pain which are expensive and not recommended in clinical practice guidelines, which may be an unnecessary waste of their money," she said.

"Because paracetamol is very affordable compared to other treatment options the potential cost-savings to individual patients and to our healthcare system is significant."

The PACE study is one of the largest back pain trials conducted in Australia and the first placebo-controlled, randomised trial to measure how quickly people recover from a new episode of back pain when they receive advice and a new formulation of paracetamol.

1650 patients were recruited from GPs, pharmacists, and the community over a three year period, with each patient  being followed for three months. With a 98% follow up rate for the primary outcome, the results of the PACE study will have important implications for the treatment of back pain.