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Panadol effectiveness questioned

By Flavia Nassaka

New study shows paracetamol not effective for lower back pain

Paracetamol, or panadol as commonly known, is a medicine found in many homes. Even when there is no patient in the house at a time, the medicine is kept for ‘just in case’ reasons.

It’s a reliever for a pool of pains including joint pains, back pain, headache and other illnesses. Panadol is available in tablet or liquid form and can be accessed without prescription from supermarkets, pharmacists, and many other shops.

Because of efficacy and limited occurrence of side effects with its use, paracetamol is globally recognised as the first set of medicine prescribed for treatment of most illnesses.

However, a recent study by Australian researchers has found the use of paracetamol to relieve lower back pain to be wanting.  The study concluded that paracetamol is no more effective than a dummy pill (placebo).


Results of the study indicated that there was no major difference found in terms of relieving pain levels, urgency of recovery and sleep between individuals who used the drug and those who used a placebo.

Associate Professor Christine Lin of the George Institute for Global Health at the University of Sydney tested more than 1,600 patients and found the median recovery time from lower back pain was 16-17 days whether patients used paracetamol or not.

The study, published in The Lancet, a medical journal on July 24, consisted of more than 1600 Australian patients with acute back pain being randomly assigned into three groups – one received three doses of paracetamol per day (6 tablets), one who could take the drug as needed (8 tablets), and one who was assigned a placebo.

The researcher found no difference in recovery times between the groups.

Dr. Adnan Khan, a physician, says that 80% of the active population suffers from low back pain at some point in their lives because of bending, twisting and heavy lifting that damage the disks in the back.

He said that pain can occur when, for example, someone lifts something too heavy or overstretches, causing a sprain or spasm in one of the muscles or ligaments in the back. For the aged, he says when bone strength, muscle elasticity and tone decrease, the discs begin to lose fluid and flexibility, which decreases their ability to cushion the vertebrae leading to pain.

“If the spine becomes overly strained or compressed, a disc may rupture or bulge outward. This rupture may put pressure on the nerves rooted to the spinal cord that control body movements and transmit signals from the body to the brain. When these nerve roots become irritated back pain results”, he explains.

The doctor says that most cases of low back pain do not require urgent care apart from pain killers and physical fitness exercises, but patients should seek medical attention immediately if they experience low back pain as a result of severe trauma, or if low back pain is accompanied by fever, sudden weight loss or sudden bladder incontinence or continuous abdominal pains.

He recommends that people should always seek medical attention in case of any pain for doctors to establish the cause since pain is the body’s way of telling you there is damage, injury or disease to tissues or organs- Normally when the cause of pain is removed, pain ceases.

But Dr. Khan advises patients not to abandon paracetamol basing on the study saying that though the medicine’s efficacy on back pain is doubted, it’s a well-tolerated remedy for headaches, fever, pain after an operation, dental pain among others although it can seriously damage your liver if you take it in amounts of over 8 tablets a day.  Experts who were not directly involved in the study have cautioned that guidelines should nevertheless not be changed on the basis of a single piece of research.

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