Acetaminophen for low back pain

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
acetaminophen Tylenol

How It Works

Acetaminophen is an analgesic, or pain reliever. Acetaminophen does not reduce inflammation, as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) do. Whether reducing inflammation helps people with low back pain is not known.

Why It Is Used

Acetaminophen is typically used for mild to moderate pain.

How Well It Works

Acetaminophen helps relieve low back pain in some people, especially mild or moderate pain that has lasted less than 3 months. Acetaminophen at recommended dosages is safer than some other medicines. So many doctors suggest trying acetaminophen first to see if it helps.1

Like other pain medicines, acetaminophen works best if it is taken on a regular schedule instead of only when pain is severe.

Side Effects

Side effects of acetaminophen are rare. Nausea and rash are the most common.

High doses of acetaminophen can cause liver damage.

Reasons not to take acetaminophen

Do not take acetaminophen if you:

  • Have kidney disease.
  • Have liver disease.
  • Drink alcohol heavily (3 or more drinks a day).

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Acetaminophen can be used by people whose stomachs cannot tolerate NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen.

Acetaminophen is present in a lot of combination products, such as Tylenol 3 and cold medicines. It is important to check all products you are taking at one time to make sure that you don't take more than the recommended dosage.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Chou R, Huffman LH (2007). 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. Annals of Internal Medicine, 147(7): 505–514.

Last Updated: February 3, 2010

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine & Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics

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