UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Orthopedics

Title: Should Acetaminophen be first line therapy in patients with Hip, Knee or Back Pain

Keywords: knee, hip, back, pain, acetaminophen (PubMed Search)

Posted: 4/18/2015 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 7/18/2024)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

Is acetaminophen good for pain control in patients with Osteoarthritic of the Knee or Hip or Low Back Pain?  Most of my patients request narcotics, but conventional teaching is that we should try to start with Acetaminophen or NSAIDs.

This recent study,, published in the BMJ analyzed 13 studies looking at over 5400 patients.  In the end, they found that acetaminophen did not appear to improve pain, disability or the patient’s quality of life in patients with back pain. Also, there was a small improvement in pain and disability in those with hip and knee pain, but it was not deemed clinically significant.

Even worse, patients taking acetaminophen had a 4x greater chance of having abnormal liver function tests.

This meta-analysis really questions whether Acetaminophen should be first line therapy in patients with osteoarthritis of the knees or hips, or in those with low back pain.  For now I will stick with a course of a NSAID.  Especially with the risk of unintentional overdose if they are taking other over the counter medicaitons that might also contain acetaminophen.




Machado GC, Maher CG, Ferreira PH, Pinheiro MB, Lin CW, Day RO, McLachlan AJ, Ferreira ML. Efficacy and safety of paracetamol for spinal pain and osteoarthritis: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo controlled trials. BMJ. 2015 Mar 31;350:h1225. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h1225