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Diazepam Is No Better Than Placebo When Added to Naproxen for Acute Low Back Pain

PainSci » bibliography » Friedman et al 2017
Tags: treatment, back pain, medications, bad news, pain problems, spine, self-treatment

Four articles on PainSci cite Friedman 2017: 1. The Complete Guide to Low Back Pain2. The Complete Guide to Chronic Tension Headaches3. The Complete Guide to Neck Pain & Cricks4. Complete Guide to Frozen Shoulder

PainSci commentary on Friedman 2017: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

Benzodiapenes like diazepam (best known as Valium) are sedatives that are sometimes prescribed like muscle relaxants for back pain. This high quality medium-sized test compared diazapem to a placebo in 112 patients with fresh cases of moderate to severe back pain (no trauma, no sciatica). The experiment started with discharge from an emergency department, after a 10-minute educational session. Everyone received a supply of either diazepam or a placebo, plus an anti-inflammatory. Pain one week later was the main outcome of interest. Disability was also measured, and pain at three months was also logged.

There was no meaningful difference. Disability was identical across the board, and 32% of diazepam recipients still had moderate or severe pain, compared to just 22% of patients taking sugar pills. For once, more study is not particularly needed: this authoritative experiment clearly shows that benzos almost certainly do not help most acute back pain.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

STUDY OBJECTIVE: Low back pain causes more than 2.5 million visits to US emergency departments (EDs) annually. Low back pain patients are often treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and benzodiazepines. The former is an evidence-based intervention, whereas the efficacy of the latter has not been established. We compare pain and functional outcomes 1 week and 3 months after ED discharge among patients randomized to a 1-week course of naproxen+diazepam versus naproxen+placebo.

METHODS: This was a randomized, double-blind, comparative efficacy clinical trial conducted in an urban health care system. Patients presenting with acute, nontraumatic, nonradicular low back pain of no more than a duration of 2 weeks were eligible for enrollment immediately before discharge from an ED if they had a score greater than 5 on the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire, a validated 24-item inventory of functional impairment caused by low back pain. Higher scores on the questionnaire indicate greater functional disability. The primary outcome in the trial was improvement in the score between ED discharge and 1 week later. Secondary outcomes included pain intensity 1 week and 3 months after ED discharge, as measured on a 4-point descriptive scale (severe, moderate, mild, and none). All patients were given 20 tablets of naproxen 500 mg, to be taken twice a day as needed for low back pain. Additionally, patients were randomized to receive either 28 tablets of diazepam 5 mg or identical placebo, to be received as 1 or 2 tablets every 12 hours as needed for low back pain. All patients received a standardized 10-minute low back pain educational session before discharge. Using a between-group mean difference of 5 Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire points, a previously validated threshold for clinical significance, we calculated the need for at least 100 patients with primary outcome data.

RESULTS: Enrollment began in June 2015 and continued for 9 months. Five hundred forty-five patients were screened for eligibility. One hundred fourteen patients met selection criteria and were randomized. Baseline demographic characteristics were not substantially different between the 2 groups. One hundred twelve patients (98%) provided 1-week outcome data. The mean Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire score of patients randomized to naproxen+diazepam improved by 11 (95% confidence interval [CI] 9 to 13), as did the mean score of patients randomized to naproxen+placebo (11; 95% CI 8 to 13). At 1-week follow-up, 18 of 57 diazepam patients (32%; 95% CI 21% to 45%) reported moderate or severe low back pain versus 12 of 55 placebo patients (22%; 95% CI 13% to 35%). At 3-month follow-up, 6 of 50 diazepam patients (12%; 95% CI 5% to 24%) reported moderate or severe low back pain versus 5 of 53 placebo patients (9%; 95% CI 4% to 21%). Adverse events were reported by 12 of 57 diazepam patients (21%; 95% CI 12% to 33%) and 8 of 55 placebo patients (15%; 95% CI 7% to 26%).

CONCLUSION: Among ED patients with acute, nontraumatic, nonradicular low back pain, naproxen+diazepam did not improve functional outcomes or pain compared with naproxen+placebo 1 week and 3 months after ED discharge.

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