Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for low back pain: a systematic review within the framework of the Cochrane Collaboration Back Review Group

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2000 Oct 1;25(19):2501-13. doi: 10.1097/00007632-200010010-00013.


Study design: A systematic review of randomized and double-blind controlled trials was performed.

Summary of background data: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are the most frequently prescribed medications worldwide and are widely used for patients with low back pain.

Objectives: To assess the effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the treatment of nonspecific low back pain with or without radiation, and to assess which type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug is most effective.

Methods: For this study, the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, Medline and Embase, and reference lists of articles were searched. Two reviewers blinded with respect to authors, institution, and journal independently extracted data and assessed the methodologic quality of the studies. If data were considered clinically homogeneous, a meta-analysis was performed. If data were considered clinically heterogeneous, a qualitative analysis was performed using a rating system with four levels of evidence: strong, moderate, limited, and no evidence.

Results: This review involved 51 trials and 6057 patients. Of these trials, 16 (31%) were of high quality. The pooled relative risk for global improvement after 1 week was 1.24 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.10-1.41), and for additional analgesic use was 1.29 (95% CI = 1.05-1.57), indicating a statistically significant but small effect in favor of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as compared with a placebo. The results of the qualitative analysis showed that there is conflicting evidence (Level 3) that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are more effective than paracetamol for acute low back pain, and that there is moderate evidence (Level 2) that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are not more effective than other drugs for acute low back pain. There is strong evidence (Level 1) that various types of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are equally effective for acute low back pain.

Conclusions: The evidence from the 51 trials included in this review suggests that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are effective for short-term symptomatic relief in patients with acute low back pain. Furthermore, there does not seem to be a specific type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is clearly more effective than others. Sufficient evidence on chronic low back pain still is lacking.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / drug therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal