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'The drugs don't work' for back pain, study suggests

06 February 2017 08:37

Back pain is the primary cause of disability among Britons under-50

Back pain is the primary cause of disability among Britons under-50

The benefits of treating back pain with medication could be outweighed by the longer-term side effects, a study suggests.

Short-term pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs - such as ibuprofen - can have double the risk of longer-term problems, including gastrointestinal stomach ulcers and bleeding, according to researchers at the George Institute for Global Health in Australia.

Figures put forward by the British Medical Association say around a third of people are affected by spinal pain each year.

The condition is the number one cause of disability among people under the age of 50, the BMC reports.

People suffering from chronic back pain can have added peace of mind by taking out medical travel insurance when travelling overseas.

Anti-inflammatories not of 'clinical significance'

Scientists at The George Institute examined more than 6,000 patients across 35 separate trials.

The findings of the study reveal only one in six patients treated with common pain medication experienced any "significant" reduction in pain.

Comparatively, taking anti-inflammatory medication makes patients two and a half times more likely to suffer from gastrointestinal problems.

Manuela Ferreira, a senior research fellow at The George Institute and the Institute of Bone and Joint Research, said: "Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is commonly managed by prescribing medicines such as anti-inflammatories."

The associate professor says anti-inflammatory drugs only provide very limited short-term pain relief and are arguably not of any "clinical significance".

She added: "When you factor in the side effects which are very common, it becomes clear that these drugs are not the answer to providing pain relief."

'Exercise not drugs'

Now scientists believe they've found a solution to the problem and it is a simple case of "prevention is better than cure".

The researchers suggest exercise reduces the risk of chronic back aches developing, and are pushing for more education about the benefits of exercise in relation to spinal pain.

George Institute research fellow Gustavo Machado, said: "We need a stronger focus on preventing back pain in the first place.

"We know that education and exercise programmes can substantially reduce the risk of developing low back pain."