Faculty of Pain Medicine, ANZCA

Do not prescribe benzodiazepines for low back pain.

Lifetime prevalence of low back pain in Australia is reported to be as high as 80% with one in ten experiencing significant activity limitation.

Although benzodiazepines continue to be commonly prescribed as ‘muscle relaxants’ for low back pain (LBP), there is an absolute lack of evidence of benefit for this indication. Only one RCT has been conducted on diazepam in acute LBP during the last 40 years, and it showed no additional benefit when added to NSAID therapy alone. A recent systematic review found no additional studies to support the use of benzodiazepines in treating acute or chronic back pain.

Well-described risks are associated with benzodiazepine usage, including abuse, addiction, tolerance and overdose. Accidental death from pharmaceutical benzodiazepines in Australia were highest in the 40–49 and 30–39 year age groups. The number of deaths in the older age groups also remains high.

There is no place for use of benzodiazepine for low back pain.

Supporting evidence
  • Briggs AM, Buchbinder R. Back pain: a national health priority area in Australia? Med J Aust 2009; 190(9):499-502.
  • Chou R, Huffman LH. 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. Ann Intern Med 2007; 147(7):505-14.
  • Friedman BW, Irizarry E, Solórzano C, et al. Diazepam is no better than placebo when added to naproxen for acute low back pain. Ann Emerg Med 2017; 70(2):169-76.
  • Penington Institute. Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2017.
  • Shaheed AC, Maher CG, Williams KA, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of muscle relaxants for low back pain: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Pain 2016; 21(2):228-37.

How this list was made How this list was made

The Faculty of Pain Medicine (FPM), ANZCA established a working group to develop a preliminary list of pain medicine related practices that were identified, using current clinical evidence, as having possible limited benefit, no benefit or which may potentially cause harm to patients. An online survey tool was used to survey all FPM fellows and trainees inviting them to rank these recommendations and to provide any comment related to them. This engagement facilitated consensus and informed the Fellows and trainees about FPM’s involvement with the Choosing Wisely campaign.

FPM's final list of 5 Choosing Wisely recommendations reflects those that were the most broadly supported by the clinicians and which were considered to be the most relevant to community practice.