Doctors, surgeons and therapists have long understood that lower back pain affects more than a patient’s daily comfort: research often shows that adults with this condition often have poorer physical and mental health than people without lower back pain. Because of this, finding effective treatments that reduce pain and promote patient health is extremely important. However, a new study suggests that a popular medication prescribed to treat lower back pain may not help manage the disorder at all.
The American Chiropractic Association estimates that an astounding 80-90% of Americans suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, while lumbar spinal stenosis is the most common type of chronic lower back pain experienced by older adults. It typically causes discomfort, tingling and numbness in the lower back, buttocks and legs, particularly when a person stands upright. Because of this, many people with the condition hunch forward at the waist, creating the position commonly associated with old age.
In order to avoid prescribing opioid pain medication, many doctors try to treat this condition with a medication called pregabalin. Also known as Lyrica, pregabalin is produced by Pfizer to treat nerve and muscle pain associated with shingles, spinal cord injuries, diabetes and other problems. Because lumbar spinal stenosis is caused by a degenerating spinal column and narrowing spinal canal, pregabalin seems like a natural choice to treat this condition. However, experts say that there is little credible evidence showing that this medication are an effective method for this problem, and it has not been approved for this use by the FDA.
To test the medication, scientists with the University of Rochester Department of Neurosurgery’s Translational Pain Research Program had patients with the condition report their pain levels while walking upright on a treadmill. While some participants were treated with pregabalin and others received a placebo, the researchers found no difference in the patients’ pain levels. Accordingly, the team’s head researcher, Dr. John Markham, published an article in the journalNeurology, stating that pregabalin appears to have no effect on lumbar spinal stenosis.
Fortunately, lumbar spinal stenosis can be treated with other methods: for example, patients can undergo surgery to remove portions of their decaying bones or discs, giving their nerves more room. Called a lumbar laminectomy, the procedure is most common spine surgery in people over the age of 60. However, in most cases, the pain returns after several years, and the operation may not be an option at all for others. In light of the study’s findings, many doctors and patients will likely have to investigate and test other pain medications, chiropractic procedures, and other methods to reduce the pain this common condition causes.