A new study found that taking antibiotics relieved chronic lower back pain symptoms in four out of ten patients. The results add credence to findings by Danish researchers who report they have found a link between many cases of back pain and infection from bacteria.
Some experts have expressed skepticism over how many people are likely to benefit from such a treatment. There is also concern over prescribing antibiotics in light of growing bacterial resistance due to over- and mis-prescribing.
Back pain is a ubiquitous condition, affecting approximately 80 percent of adults at some point in their lifetime. Traditional treatments have hot or cold compresses, exercise, physical therapy, massage, and other chiropractic manipulations. In extreme cases patients may need surgery to remove part of a damaged disc.
But research conducted at the University of Southern Denmark, a follow up to earlier studies, found that up to 53 percent of patients with herniated discs were infected with a specific type of bacteria that infected the patients’ discs at the time it herniated. In the first study of 61 patients who underwent surgery for lower back pain, researchers found bacteria in 46 percent of the slipped discs.
In a second study with 162 participants who reported experiencing lower back pain for more than six months following a herniated disc, half the patients were given a 100-day course of antibiotics and the other half received a placebo. One year later researchers conducted a follow up study and those who had received antibiotics were significantly less likely to still have lower back pain and physical disability than those who received the placebo. The researchers estimate that between 35 to 40 percent those with chronic back pain have excess fluid in the spinal vertebrae and might benefit from this type of treatment. Their findings were published in the European Spine Journal.
However, experts are quick to caution that the research does not mean antibiotics are a curefor back pain. John O’Dowd, a spinal surgeon and president of the British Society for Back Pain Research explains that this new treatment is basically for those who have suffered a herniated disc.
Even so, Dr. Hanne Albert, who was part of the Danish research team, believes the findings can give those particular patients relief and physical agility they otherwise cold not enjoy. And it will also prevent a significant number of patients from having to undergo major back surgery.
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