Researchers: Antibiotics could cure 40% of back pain

Experts call potential cure for chronic back pain a 'turning point'

Antibiotics could cure up to 40% of individuals with chronic lower back pain, according to research published in the European Spinal Journal.

The Telegraph notes that the cause of lower back pain—which affects at least five million individuals in the United Kingdom alone—is often unknown. Treatment for lower back pain often includes certain exercises, anti-inflammatory drugs, and spinal surgery in severe cases. Millions of people also turn to physiotherapy, chiropractic, and osteopathic medicine to manage their symptoms.

However, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark detected a bacterial infection in 46% of patients with chronic lower back pain following a slipped or herniated disk. They posited that bacteria could infect a herniated disc, causing bone swelling and persistent pain.

To test their theory, the researchers administered the antibiotic combination Amoxicillin and clavulanate to 162 patients who suffered from chronic back pain. Of those patients, 80% were cured or saw significant improvement in their symptoms, the researchers found.

Pete Hamlyn, a neurologist and spinal surgeon at the University College Hospital in London told The Telegraph that the findings require more research before they are confirmed. However, if verified, antibiotics could relieve back pain for half of patients who would otherwise result to surgery.

"Make no mistake this is a turning point, a point where we will have to re-write the textbooks," he said, adding, "It is the stuff of Nobel prizes."

However, some experts were more critical of the results. Laura Piddock, a microbiology professor from the University of Birmingham, says antibiotics should only be prescribed to treat back pain once a bacterial cause has been identified. Widespread use of antibiotics for chronic back pain could hasten drug resistance across the population and increase the risk of future infections, she says (Donnelly, The Telegraph, 5/7).

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