YOU DEMOLISHED YOUR lower back deadlifting. You totaled it playing rec league soccer. Maybe you just tweaked it while you were sleeping.
At some point, everyone will experience a form of back pain. But whether it’s chronic or acute, popping an Advil (which all of us have done at some point) probably won’t get you much relief: only one out of every six patients who take ibuprofen or aspirin (aka nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) actually experiences a significant reduction in pain, according to new research from The George Institute for Global Health. The rest of us suffer through.
Not to burden you with the negative, but there’s more to the story: Not only are anti-inflammatory drugs mostly ineffective at treating back pain, but they’re also known to trigger harmful side effects like stomach ulcers and bleeding—and that’s bad news for the 31 million Americans who experience lower back pain at any given time, per the American Chiropractic Association. (It’s also the leading cause of disability worldwide.)
In the systematic review, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, researchers looked into 35 trials involving over 6,000 men and women. Their findings: Anti-inflammatories are mostly ineffective, opioid pain meds are just a step above placebos, and people taking anti-inflammatories are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from the above gastro-intestinal problems.
“Our results show that anti-inflammatory drugs only provide very limited short term pain relief,” leady study author Manuela Ferreira said in a press release. “They do reduce the level of pain, but only very slightly, and arguably not of any clinical significance.”
Luckily, there are alternatives.
“We know that education and exercise programs can substantially reduce the risk of developing low back pain,” Ferreira says.