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Ibuprofen and aspirin proved to be ineffective against back pain despite NICE recommendation


By Charlotte Lascelles

A STUDY carried out by the University of Sydney has proved that popular anti-inflammatory drugs are ineffective against helping people with back pain.

It comes after painkillers like Ibuprofen and aspirin were recommended instead of other practices, such as acupuncture, in new guidelines published by NICE.

The study’s findings showed that the painkillers only offered short-term relief and actually cause more problems, such as making patients 2.5 times as likely to suffer from stomach ulcers and bleeding.

Gustavo Machado, one of the research fellows from the George Institute said: “Medicines provide a minor role in the management of back pain and should not be used as a stand-alone intervention.

“The drugs when used should be part of a ‘package of care’ that also include other effective approaches.”

Three months prior to this research, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) had recommended using these painkillers rather than other practices, such as acupuncture, which caused anger amongst acupuncturists, doctors and patients alike.

When asked for comment on the study, NICE stood by their guidelines: “In terms of why our guideline on low back pain recommends anti-inflammatory drugs, the evidence considered was for piroxicam, etoricoxib, diclofenac, ibuprofen and indomethacin as oral preparations and tenoxicam by intramuscular injection, short-term effectiveness in terms of pain severity and function was demonstrated.

“In terms of acupuncture, when compared with sham or placebo treatment, there was no meaningful improvement in terms of pain or function.”

Over the years acupuncture has been proven to be a safer alternative to pharmacological treatment for low back pain and has been shown to have fewer risks and side effects than commonly used pain medications in research done by institutions in the USA, Australia, Canada and Germany.

Five facts about Acupuncture:

  • Acupuncture has been practised for over 5,000 years and, according to folklore, acupuncture was first discovered when Chinese warriors found that arrows striking them at certain points in the body healed them of chronic conditions.
  • The insertion of an acupuncture needle provokes a number of physiological changes. It activates fine nerves triggers tissue fibroblasts to release adenosine, an anti-inflammatory and neurotransmitter with both local and systemic effects. Adenosine is responsible for some of acupuncture’s local painkilling effects.
  • To become qualified as an acupuncturist you need to take a three-year-long programme and have over 1,000 hours of experience in internships. And after that practitioners are expected to constantly continue their education to keep up-to-date with new treatments
  • There are around 2,000 acu-points across the human body that all help to balance a different aspect your health.
  • Acupuncture can be used as an anaesthetic due to its very effective use of managing pain and without having any side effects that come with normal painkillers like addiction.  Due to this it is widely used as anaesthesia in China and the west too.

Lara McClure and two students from the Northern College of Acupuncture gave their opinions on NICE’s guidelines.

What do you think?