More Isn’t Better With Acute Low Back Pain Treatment

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Adding second pain reliever provided no significant benefit
This double-blinded RCT enrolled 323 adults presenting to an ED with two weeks or less of nontraumatic, nonradicular LBP.1 Subjects had a score of > 5 on the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ), which measures functional impairment due to LBP (range, 0-24). Patients were excluded if they had radicular pain radiating below the gluteal folds, direct trauma to the back within the previous month, pain lasting > 2 wk, a recent history of multiple LBP episodes per month, or a history of opioid use.

All subjects received 10 days’ worth of naproxen (500 mg bid). They were then randomized to receive either oxycodone/acetaminophen (5 mg/325 mg), cyclobenzaprine (5 mg), or placebo, with instructions to take one to two tablets as needed every eight hours for 10 days. All patients also received a 10-minute educational session emphasizing the role of nonpharmacologic interventions.

The primary outcome was change in the RMDQ between ED discharge and a phone call seven days later; a 5-point improvement in the RMDQ was considered clinically significant. Secondary outcomes included subjective description of worst pain, frequency of LBP, frequency of analgesic use, satisfaction with treatment, median number of days to return to work and usual activities, need for follow-up health care visits, and opioid use. Investigators also asked about any adverse effects.

At seven days, reported RMDQ scores had improved by 9.8 points in patients taking naproxen plus placebo, 10.1 points in those receiving naproxen plus cyclobenzaprine, and 11.1 points in those using naproxen plus oxycodone/acetaminophen. There were no statistically significant between-group differences for placebo vs cyclobenzaprine or oxycodone/acetaminophen (0.3 points and 1.3 points, respectively) or cyclobenzaprine vs oxycodone/acetaminophen (0.9 points).

Secondary outcomes. At seven days, there was no significant difference between study groups in subjective pain assessment, frequency of LBP, or use of as-needed medications in the prior 24 hours. There was also no difference in the median number of days to return to work or need for follow-up health care visits.

Among patients who took more than one dose of the study medication, those who took oxycodone/acetaminophen were more likely to describe their worst pain in the last 24 hours as mild/none, compared to patients taking placebo (number needed to treat, 6). About 72% of all subjects reported that they would choose the same treatment option again, with no difference between groups. At three months, there was no difference between groups in subjective pain assessment, frequency of LBP, use of as-needed medications, or opioid use during the previous 72 hours.

Adverse effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, stomach ir­ritation, and nausea or vomiting, were more common in the oxy­codone/acetaminophen and the cyclobenzaprine treatment groups, with a number needed to harm of 5.3 and 7.8, respectively.

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