Many people consider it to be the magic bullet, but they may unwittingly putting their body at harm’s way. Paracetamol, arguably the world’s most self-prescribed medication is widely used to treat pain and fever, but according to a new study it’s not good enough to help you with anything big such as knee or hip joint pain relief.

The study, published in The Lancet, says paracetamol does not meet the minimum standard set by medical bodies for effectiveness in reducing pain or improving motor function in patients with knee and hip osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the world’s most common form of arthritis and the study considered the role of paracetamol, taken on its own, in treating patients with osteoarthritis, irrespective of dosage size. Diclofenac (150mg/day) a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), was found to be the most effective short-term pain relief. But long-term use of NSAIDs causes grave side-effects. “Our results suggest that paracetamol at any dose is not effective in managing pain in osteoarthritis, but that certain NSAIDs are effective and can be used intermittently without paracetamol,” researcher Sven Trelle from University of Bern in Switzerland, was quoted as saying in an IANS report.

With data from 74 randomised trials between 1980 and 2015 from a total of 58,556 patients with osteoarthritis, the researchers studied at the effects of 22 different medical treatments and placebo on pain intensity and physical activity of these patients. These included various doses of paracetamol and seven different NSAIDs. Inevitably all 22 preparations of medications, irrespective of dose, improved symptoms of pain compared with the placebo group. However, among the medications, paracetamol’s effect was negligible. Paracetamol helps in improving physical function and decreasing pain only slightly better than a placebo dose. It never reached a point where it could make a difference clinically, according to the study.

You might as well be taking sugar pills instead of popping paracetamols. “We hope our study can help better inform doctors about how best to manage pain in this population,” Trelle was quoted as saying.

Dr Maureen Baker, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, told The Express, “The majority of evidence still suggests paracetamol is a safe drug for most patients, but a number of recent studies – this included – do cast doubt on its effectiveness at treating osteoarthritis. We know alternatives such as NSAIDs can be effective but they can have nasty side-effects for patients if they are taken over a long period.”

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