A key study came out in 2015 related to the use of Tylenol for back pain and osteoarthritis. This study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia, was significant because it used a broad pool of data – reviewing the findings of 13 previous studies on the subject.
Let’s look at this study. First, though, we want to be sure that we understand what Tylenol is and how it operates within the body.
When I use Tylenol for back pain, what exactly am I taking?
Tylenol is a brand name for acetaminophen. Approved by the FDA in 1951, this drug is also called paracetamol or N-acetyl-para-aminophenol (APAP). Acetaminophen is within a class of drugs called analgesics and antipyretics; the former refers to pain relief, while the latter indicates fever reduction. It is unclear exactly how this medication works (i.e., its “mechanism of action”). However, some scientists believe that it impedes prostaglandin production within the brain. Prostaglandins contribute to swelling and inflammation. Regardless some of the details, paracetamol raises the pain threshold and tells the brain’s heat-regulating center to lower body temperature when it is high.
Clinical guidelines have advised the use of APAP (Tylenol) as the first, “go-to” medication for treatment of both back pain and osteoarthritis. The study’s authors noted that these recommendations, which also suggest that a full dose can go as high as 4000 milligrams per day, had been increasingly targeted as ineffective and possibly dangerous.
Should I use Tylenol for back pain?
The research team assessed a total of 13 studies, three of which gauged effectiveness of acetaminophen for lower back pain, and 10 of which measured how well it treated hip and knee osteoarthritis (OA).
When the researchers examined the use of Tylenol for back pain and OA, they wanted to know if it either improved quality-of-life or lowered disability among patients. Among those with knee or hip osteoarthritis, it had a positive impact in each category that was so minor it was not considered clinically significant. With the lower back pain patients, the results were even less impressive, with the findings suggesting that acetaminophen failed to either improve quality-of-life or prevent disability.
Beyond Tylenol for back pain
Are you experiencing chronic back pain? A popular over-the-counter painkiller may seem to be a quick-fix solution – but research suggests you should look elsewhere for help with your recovery. At Pain Stop North Phoenix, we create individualized treatment plans for your specific pain condition to provide fast back pain relief with long-term results. Learn more.