Common drugs used to treat back pain only provide meagre benefits that are outweighed by the side effects, scientists have warned.
A new study suggests non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen only provide “very limited short-term pain relief”.
But they can more than double the risk of developing problems including stomach ulcers and bleeding if used long-term.
Back pain is the primary cause of disability in under-50s, affecting around one in three people every year, according to the British Medical Association.
Now a team from the George Institute for Global Health in Australia has said exercise, rather than drugs, is likely to be more effective at managing back pain or reducing the risk of developing the condition.
Associate professor Ferreira, senior research fellow at The George Institute, said: “Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is commonly managed by prescribing medicines such as anti-inflammatories.
“But our results show anti-inflammatory drugs actually only provide very limited short-term pain relief.
“They do reduce the level of pain, but only very slightly, and arguably not of any clinical significance.
“When you factor in the side effects which are very common, it becomes clear that these drugs are not the answer to providing pain relief.”
The researchers analysed the result from 35 trials involving more than 6,000 people and found patients taking anti-inflammatories were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from gastro-intestinal problems.
Research fellow Gustavo Machado, said: "We need a stronger focus on preventing back pain in the first place.
“We know that education and exercise programmes can substantially reduce the risk of developing low back pain.”