July 28, 2014 — The Lancet has published a study finding that Tylenol (acetaminophen) is no better than a placebo at treating low-back pain, which suggests the risk of liver damage might outweigh the benefits for certain patients.
The conclusions of the study were based on data from Australia, where acetaminophen is known as paracetamol.
Researchers took about 1,600 patients and split them into three groups. One group received 500-mg acetaminophen, one group received acetaminophen and were instructed to take a placebo “as-needed,” and the third group received only placebos.
After three months, there was no significant difference among the groups in terms of pain-relief, recovery time, short-term pain levels, disability, function, sleep quality, or quality of life.
In fact, patients on a placebo recovered faster — after just 16 days, vs. 17 days for patients on Tylenol. In all three groups, 83-85% of patients achieved sustained recovery at 12 weeks.
The lead author on the study, Dr. Christopher Williams, raised concerns about the wide acceptance of Tylenol for low-back pain:
“The results suggest we need to reconsider the universal recommendation to provide paracetamol as a first-line treatment for low-back pain, although understanding why paracetamol works for other pain states but not low-back pain would help direct future treatments.”
Researchers are not the only ones concerned about Tylenol. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restricted the dose of acetaminophen in prescription painkillers to 325-mg. The agency concluded that higher doses are unlikely to “provide additional benefit that outweighs the added risks for liver injury.” Click here to read more.