Acetaminophen for low back pain

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Acetaminophen for low back pain


Generic NameBrand Name

How It Works

Acetaminophen is an analgesic, or pain reliever. Acetaminophen does not reduce inflammation, as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) do. Whether reducing inflammation helps people with low back pain is not known.

Why It Is Used

Acetaminophen is typically used for mild to moderate pain.

How Well It Works

Acetaminophen helps relieve low back pain in some people, especially mild or moderate pain that has lasted less than 3 months. Acetaminophen at recommended dosages is safer than some other medicines. So many doctors suggest trying acetaminophen first to see if it helps.1

Like other pain medicines, acetaminophen works best if it is taken on a regular schedule instead of only when pain is severe.

Side Effects

Side effects of acetaminophen are rare. Nausea and rash are the most common.

High doses of acetaminophen can cause liver damage.

Reasons not to take acetaminophen

Do not take acetaminophen if you:

  • Have kidney disease.
  • Have liver disease.
  • Drink alcohol heavily (3 or more drinks a day).

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Acetaminophen can be used by people whose stomachs cannot tolerate NSAIDs like ASA or ibuprofen.

Acetaminophen is present in a lot of combination products, such as Tylenol 3 and cold medicines. It is important to check all products you are taking at one time to make sure that you don't take more than the recommended dosage.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Chou R, Huffman LH (2007). Medications for acute and chronic low back pain: A review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians clinical practice guideline. Annals of Internal Medicine, 147(7): 505–514.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
Last Revised June 8, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.