Medications for acute and chronic low back pain

A review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians clinical practice guideline

Roger Chou, Laurie Hoyt Huffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

375 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: Medications are the most frequently prescribed therapy for low back pain. A challenge in choosing pharmacologic therapy is that each class of medication is associated with a unique balance of risks and benefits. Purpose: To assess benefits and harms of acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants, benzodiazepines, antiepileptic drugs, skeletal muscle relaxants, opioid analgesics, tramadol, and systemic corticosteroids for acute or chronic low back pain (with or without leg pain). Data Sources: English-language studies were identified through searches of MEDLINE (through November 2006) and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2006, Issue 4). These electronic searches were supplemented by hand searching reference lists and additional citations suggested by experts. Study Selection: Systematic reviews and randomized trials of dual therapy or monotherapy with 1 or more of the preceding medications for acute or chronic low back pain that reported pain outcomes, back-specific function, general health status, work disability, or patient satisfaction. Data Extraction: We abstracted information about study design, population characteristics, interventions, outcomes, and adverse events. To grade methodological quality, we used the Oxman criteria for systematic reviews and the Cochrane Back Review Group criteria for individual trials. Data Synthesis: We found good evidence that NSAIDs, skeletal muscle relaxants (for acute low back pain), and tricyclic antidepressants (for chronic low back pain) are effective for pain relief. The magnitude of benefit was moderate (effect size of 0.5 to 0.8, improvement of 10 to 20 points on a 100-point visual analogue pain scale, or relative risk of 1.25 to 2.00 for the proportion of patients experiencing clinically significant pain relief), except in the case of tricyclic antidepressants (for which the benefit was small to moderate). We also found fair evidence that acetaminophen, opioids, tramadol, benzodiazepines, and gabapentin (for radiculopathy) are effective for pain relief. We found good evidence that systemic corticosteroids are ineffective. Adverse events, such as sedation, varied by medication, although reliable data on serious and long-term harms are sparse. Most trials were short term (≤4 weeks). Few data address efficacy of dual-medication therapy compared with monotherapy, or beneficial effects on functional outcomes. Limitations: Our primary source of data was systematic reviews. We included non-English-language trials only if they were included in English-language systematic reviews. Conclusions: Medications with good evidence of short-term effectiveness for low back pain are NSAIDs, skeletal muscle relaxants (for acute low back pain), and tricyclic antidepressants (for chronic low back pain). Evidence is insufficient to identify one medication as offering a clear overall net advantage because of complex tradeoffs between benefits and harms. Individual patients are likely to differ in how they weigh potential benefits, harms, and costs of various medications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-514
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of Internal Medicine
Volume147
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2 2007

Fingerprint

Low Back Pain
Practice Guidelines
Physicians
Neuromuscular Agents
Tricyclic Antidepressive Agents
Pain
Tramadol
Anti-Inflammatory Agents
Language
Information Storage and Retrieval
Acetaminophen
Benzodiazepines
Opioid Analgesics
Adrenal Cortex Hormones
Radiculopathy
Job Satisfaction
Population Characteristics
Pain Measurement
Therapeutics
Back Pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

Cite this

@article{338e4253910f45808d7c9b94a5303314,
title = "Medications for acute and chronic low back pain: A review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians clinical practice guideline",
abstract = "Background: Medications are the most frequently prescribed therapy for low back pain. A challenge in choosing pharmacologic therapy is that each class of medication is associated with a unique balance of risks and benefits. Purpose: To assess benefits and harms of acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants, benzodiazepines, antiepileptic drugs, skeletal muscle relaxants, opioid analgesics, tramadol, and systemic corticosteroids for acute or chronic low back pain (with or without leg pain). Data Sources: English-language studies were identified through searches of MEDLINE (through November 2006) and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2006, Issue 4). These electronic searches were supplemented by hand searching reference lists and additional citations suggested by experts. Study Selection: Systematic reviews and randomized trials of dual therapy or monotherapy with 1 or more of the preceding medications for acute or chronic low back pain that reported pain outcomes, back-specific function, general health status, work disability, or patient satisfaction. Data Extraction: We abstracted information about study design, population characteristics, interventions, outcomes, and adverse events. To grade methodological quality, we used the Oxman criteria for systematic reviews and the Cochrane Back Review Group criteria for individual trials. Data Synthesis: We found good evidence that NSAIDs, skeletal muscle relaxants (for acute low back pain), and tricyclic antidepressants (for chronic low back pain) are effective for pain relief. The magnitude of benefit was moderate (effect size of 0.5 to 0.8, improvement of 10 to 20 points on a 100-point visual analogue pain scale, or relative risk of 1.25 to 2.00 for the proportion of patients experiencing clinically significant pain relief), except in the case of tricyclic antidepressants (for which the benefit was small to moderate). We also found fair evidence that acetaminophen, opioids, tramadol, benzodiazepines, and gabapentin (for radiculopathy) are effective for pain relief. We found good evidence that systemic corticosteroids are ineffective. Adverse events, such as sedation, varied by medication, although reliable data on serious and long-term harms are sparse. Most trials were short term (≤4 weeks). Few data address efficacy of dual-medication therapy compared with monotherapy, or beneficial effects on functional outcomes. Limitations: Our primary source of data was systematic reviews. We included non-English-language trials only if they were included in English-language systematic reviews. Conclusions: Medications with good evidence of short-term effectiveness for low back pain are NSAIDs, skeletal muscle relaxants (for acute low back pain), and tricyclic antidepressants (for chronic low back pain). Evidence is insufficient to identify one medication as offering a clear overall net advantage because of complex tradeoffs between benefits and harms. Individual patients are likely to differ in how they weigh potential benefits, harms, and costs of various medications.",
author = "Roger Chou and Huffman, {Laurie Hoyt}",
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publisher = "American College of Physicians",
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T2 - A review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians clinical practice guideline

AU - Chou, Roger

AU - Huffman, Laurie Hoyt

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N2 - Background: Medications are the most frequently prescribed therapy for low back pain. A challenge in choosing pharmacologic therapy is that each class of medication is associated with a unique balance of risks and benefits. Purpose: To assess benefits and harms of acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants, benzodiazepines, antiepileptic drugs, skeletal muscle relaxants, opioid analgesics, tramadol, and systemic corticosteroids for acute or chronic low back pain (with or without leg pain). Data Sources: English-language studies were identified through searches of MEDLINE (through November 2006) and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2006, Issue 4). These electronic searches were supplemented by hand searching reference lists and additional citations suggested by experts. Study Selection: Systematic reviews and randomized trials of dual therapy or monotherapy with 1 or more of the preceding medications for acute or chronic low back pain that reported pain outcomes, back-specific function, general health status, work disability, or patient satisfaction. Data Extraction: We abstracted information about study design, population characteristics, interventions, outcomes, and adverse events. To grade methodological quality, we used the Oxman criteria for systematic reviews and the Cochrane Back Review Group criteria for individual trials. Data Synthesis: We found good evidence that NSAIDs, skeletal muscle relaxants (for acute low back pain), and tricyclic antidepressants (for chronic low back pain) are effective for pain relief. The magnitude of benefit was moderate (effect size of 0.5 to 0.8, improvement of 10 to 20 points on a 100-point visual analogue pain scale, or relative risk of 1.25 to 2.00 for the proportion of patients experiencing clinically significant pain relief), except in the case of tricyclic antidepressants (for which the benefit was small to moderate). We also found fair evidence that acetaminophen, opioids, tramadol, benzodiazepines, and gabapentin (for radiculopathy) are effective for pain relief. We found good evidence that systemic corticosteroids are ineffective. Adverse events, such as sedation, varied by medication, although reliable data on serious and long-term harms are sparse. Most trials were short term (≤4 weeks). Few data address efficacy of dual-medication therapy compared with monotherapy, or beneficial effects on functional outcomes. Limitations: Our primary source of data was systematic reviews. We included non-English-language trials only if they were included in English-language systematic reviews. Conclusions: Medications with good evidence of short-term effectiveness for low back pain are NSAIDs, skeletal muscle relaxants (for acute low back pain), and tricyclic antidepressants (for chronic low back pain). Evidence is insufficient to identify one medication as offering a clear overall net advantage because of complex tradeoffs between benefits and harms. Individual patients are likely to differ in how they weigh potential benefits, harms, and costs of various medications.

AB - Background: Medications are the most frequently prescribed therapy for low back pain. A challenge in choosing pharmacologic therapy is that each class of medication is associated with a unique balance of risks and benefits. Purpose: To assess benefits and harms of acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants, benzodiazepines, antiepileptic drugs, skeletal muscle relaxants, opioid analgesics, tramadol, and systemic corticosteroids for acute or chronic low back pain (with or without leg pain). Data Sources: English-language studies were identified through searches of MEDLINE (through November 2006) and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2006, Issue 4). These electronic searches were supplemented by hand searching reference lists and additional citations suggested by experts. Study Selection: Systematic reviews and randomized trials of dual therapy or monotherapy with 1 or more of the preceding medications for acute or chronic low back pain that reported pain outcomes, back-specific function, general health status, work disability, or patient satisfaction. Data Extraction: We abstracted information about study design, population characteristics, interventions, outcomes, and adverse events. To grade methodological quality, we used the Oxman criteria for systematic reviews and the Cochrane Back Review Group criteria for individual trials. Data Synthesis: We found good evidence that NSAIDs, skeletal muscle relaxants (for acute low back pain), and tricyclic antidepressants (for chronic low back pain) are effective for pain relief. The magnitude of benefit was moderate (effect size of 0.5 to 0.8, improvement of 10 to 20 points on a 100-point visual analogue pain scale, or relative risk of 1.25 to 2.00 for the proportion of patients experiencing clinically significant pain relief), except in the case of tricyclic antidepressants (for which the benefit was small to moderate). We also found fair evidence that acetaminophen, opioids, tramadol, benzodiazepines, and gabapentin (for radiculopathy) are effective for pain relief. We found good evidence that systemic corticosteroids are ineffective. Adverse events, such as sedation, varied by medication, although reliable data on serious and long-term harms are sparse. Most trials were short term (≤4 weeks). Few data address efficacy of dual-medication therapy compared with monotherapy, or beneficial effects on functional outcomes. Limitations: Our primary source of data was systematic reviews. We included non-English-language trials only if they were included in English-language systematic reviews. Conclusions: Medications with good evidence of short-term effectiveness for low back pain are NSAIDs, skeletal muscle relaxants (for acute low back pain), and tricyclic antidepressants (for chronic low back pain). Evidence is insufficient to identify one medication as offering a clear overall net advantage because of complex tradeoffs between benefits and harms. Individual patients are likely to differ in how they weigh potential benefits, harms, and costs of various medications.

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