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  • An Australian review has found non-steroidal anti-inflamatory drugs are ineffective in treating back pain. (AAP)
SBS World News Radio: An Australian study has concluded popular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have little impact on lower back and neck pain.
Manny Tsigas, Presented by
Justin Park

3 Feb 2017 - 9:30 PM  UPDATED 4 Feb 2017 - 11:00 PM

Since being pregnant with her son more than 35 years ago Anastasia Glynatsis has suffered lower back problems.

But in that time she has found non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs haven't been effective in reducing her pain.

"Just anything sets it off. A wrong move, a bit of cold wind. Nothing works. I always feel sick and it's just not worth it because then you're dealing with two different symptoms."

Researchers at The George Institute for Global Health in Sydney have reviewed the results of 35 clinical trials in which 6,000 patients were given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs.

Their findings have been published in the international journal, the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Lead author, Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira says the study found the treatment provides limited short-term relief, and that just one in six patients who received NSAIDs in pill form saw any significant pain reduction.

She says users were also found to experience more negative side effects.

"I think we all expect a quick fix for back pain. You have pain in the back, you take medication and the expectation is really high. But they do not offer that much of a benefit. And there are side effects. Even if you take anti-inflammatories for one week, you'll be 2.5 times at a higher risk of developing gastro-intestinal problems, like ulcers etc."

The Institute says around 80 per cent of Australians experience lower back pain at some point in their lives.

It estimates it costs Australia around $8 billion a year, not just on drugs, but sick leave from work and other treatments.

Lesley Brydon is the chief executive of Pain Australia, a not-for-profit body that lobbies to improve pain treatment and management.

"Forty per cent of people who are forced to retire do so because of back pain. It's not just the cost of the medication; it's the flow on effect of people not working, the personal cost, the family cost. People with pain are very difficult to live with, too. Active self-management strategies are going to be more helpful to them than passive strategies like medication or surgery or massage. All these things have their place, of course, but you need to own your pain, you need to understand your own body."

Malcolm Smith is a Professor of rheumatology at Flinders University in South Australia.

He says the study's findings are useful, but each patient's case must be treated differently.

"Basically it's individualised medicine - matching a treatment option to the patient in front of you. A systematic review tells you an average for a group of patients, but that doesn't help you with an individual patient."

Most clinical guidelines recommend taking paracetamol before moving on to anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

But a previous study by the George Institute also found paracetamol to be ineffective for back pain.

The Institute argues drugs should only play a minor role in treatment and is calling for more federal government attention on the issue.