The next time you tweak your back, think twice before heading to the medicine cabinet. Acetaminophen, best known as the active ingredient in Tylenol, is the most popular drug in the world for treating low back pain. But a new study shows that it doesn’t help any more than a placebo, or inert sugar pill, for getting rid of the pain.
Researchers in Australia divided over 1,600 people with low back pain into three groups: regular dosing with acetaminophen, as-needed dosing, and dosing with a placebo. In addition to measuring how long it took for the participants’ back pain to clear up, they also measured overall pain levels and participants’ ability to function, sleep, and their quality of life. Across the board, they saw no differences between the three groups—taking acetaminophen regularly or only when in pain had no effect on how the participants felt or how long they needed to recover.
These findings, published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal, undermine existing medical guidelines—which recommend acetaminophen as the first-choice drug for back pain.
(Source: The Lancet, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60805-9)