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Study finds commonly-used pain killer is likely useless

Paracetamol might be no more effective than a placebo when it comes to treating pain, a new Australian study has found.

The study, by University of Sydney researchers, was published in the Medical Journal of Australia and evaluated the “efficacy and safety” of one of the most common painkillers.

Researchers looked at 36 systematic reviews over a 10-year period to assess the effectiveness of paracetamol on “44 painful conditions”.

"There is high quality evidence that paracetamol provides modest pain relief for people with knee or hip osteoarthritis and after craniotomy," the researchers wrote.

"There is moderate quality evidence for its efficacy in tension‐type headache and perineal pain soon after childbirth."

A man holds pills and a glass of water.
Paracetamol was found to only work effectively for four of 44 painful conditions. Source: Getty Images (file pic)

However he evidence also showed paracetamol is “not effective” in helping with lower back pain.

Researchers wrote it was only effective in relieving pain in four of the 44 conditions and for the others there was “insufficient” evidence to suggest it works.

It was either deemed “low quality” or inconclusive in these cases.

“While paracetamol is widely used, its efficacy in relieving pain has been established for only a handful of conditions, and its benefits are often modest,” researchers wrote.

“Although some trials have evaluated regimens that may have underestimated its utility, the clinical application of paracetamol is primarily guided by low quality evidence, at best.”

Other pain relief strategies needed

Dr Christina Abdel Shaheed, one of the paper’s lead authors, told News Corp that back pain guidelines should stop suggesting paracetamol.

She added while the study lacks “definitive evidence” to know whether paracetamol “does or doesn’t work”, it does show the need for wider trials to reduce uncertainty.

Dr Abdel Shaheed told 3AW it also illustrates why people shouldn’t be overly reliant on pain medication.

"They should be using it in the short term, where possible, and combining it with non-drug strategies to amplify their pain relief,” she said.

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