Can painkillers cure my lower back pain?

When it comes to easing pain or reducing fever, paracetamol and ibuprofen are commonly relied upon. But what’s the science behind their effectiveness? Can they cure my lower back pain?


Paracetamol works by influencing the brain’s perception of pain and temperature. It’s like a thermostat, adjusting the settings to make you feel more comfortable. By doing this, paracetamol helps to lessen pain and bring down a fever. However, it’s worth noting that paracetamol doesn’t really tackle inflammation or swelling. So, it’s most effective for general aches, pains, and fevers.

Ibuprofen (NSAIDs):

Ibuprofen, on the other hand, is a bit of a superhero in the pain relief world. It’s part of a group of medications known as NSAIDs, which are particularly good at fighting inflammation. When you take ibuprofen, it works by blocking certain enzymes in your body responsible for triggering inflammation, pain, and fever. This helps to reduce swelling, ease pain, and lower fevers.

So, if you’re dealing with swelling, such as from a sprained ankle or sore muscles, ibuprofen can be a better choice because it targets both pain and inflammation.

Key Differences:

The main difference between paracetamol and ibuprofen lies in their mechanisms of action and what they’re best at tackling. Paracetamol is great for general pain relief and fever reduction, while ibuprofen is more effective against pain, fever, and inflammation.

It’s essential to use these medications responsibly and follow the recommended dosage instructions. If you’re unsure about which one to take or have any concerns, it’s always wise to consult with a healthcare professional.

Effectiveness in Lower Back Pain:

Scientific studies have extensively evaluated NSAIDs’ efficacy in managing lower back pain. A systematic review in the Annals of Internal Medicine analysed data from 35 randomized controlled trials involving over 6,000 participants with acute low back pain. It found that NSAIDs provided modest short-term pain relief compared to a placebo, with slight improvements in function.

Similarly, a meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine examined NSAIDs’ efficacy for chronic low back pain. The analysis, incorporating data from 35 randomized trials involving more than 6,000 participants, concluded that NSAIDs were associated with a significant reduction in pain intensity compared to placebo over a short-term period.

Considerations and Side Effects:

While NSAIDs offer relief, it’s crucial to weigh potential side effects and risks. Common side effects include gastrointestinal issues like ulcers and bleeding, as well as cardiovascular risks such as heart attack and stroke. These risks vary based on factors like dosage, duration of use, and individual health status.

Addressing the Root Cause:

NSAIDs effectively manage symptoms, but they do not cure lower back pain. Lower back pain often stems from various underlying causes, including muscle strain, disc herniation, or degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis. Thus, while NSAIDs alleviate symptoms, addressing the root cause requires a comprehensive approach.


Unlike NSAIDs, which target pain and inflammation, osteopathy takes a holistic view. Practitioners consider posture, biomechanics, and lifestyle factors contributing to pain. By addressing root causes, osteopathy aims for lasting relief, prioritizing overall wellness over symptom management.

Evidence of Effectiveness:

Research supports osteopathy’s efficacy in lower back pain management. Studies, including a systematic review in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, indicate significant pain and function improvements with osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) compared to sham treatments.

Another study in the Annals of Family Medicine found OMT to be superior to usual care alone, showcasing osteopathy’s potential as a valuable treatment option for chronic lower back pain.

Advantages Over NSAIDs:

While NSAIDs offer temporary relief, they carry risks like gastrointestinal and cardiovascular complications. In contrast, osteopathy provides a natural and safe alternative. Tailored to individual needs, it addresses the root cause rather than masking symptoms, offering personalised and patient-centric care.


Osteopathy presents a holistic approach to lower back pain management, emphasising root cause resolution and overall well-being. While NSAIDs offer temporary relief, osteopathy offers a natural and personalised alternative for long-term healing. For those seeking effective, holistic care for lower back pain, osteopathy stands out as a compelling option.

“We often give painkillers the credit that ought to be given to the passage of time, the belief that they would kill the pain, or the water that accompanied them.” ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana