Saturday 18 January 2020

Antibiotics can play key role in ending back pain

Jeremy Laurance

PATIENTS with chronic low back pain may be suffering from an infection that can be treated with antibiotics.

If proved true, the revolutionary theory about the cause of one of the commonest and most debilitating ailments should win its discoverer the Nobel Prize, one surgeon has said.

However, the paper describing the research – based on just 162 patients – was turned down by the leading medical journals such as the 'Lancet' and 'British Medical Journal'. It has now been published in the 'European Spine Journal'.

Researchers claim the treatment could be suitable for up to 40pc of patients with severe, long-term pain, for whom the only alternative is surgery.

However, it is not as simple as replacing the painkillers with antibiotics. The treatment requires an MRI scan to detect distinctive "Modic" changes in the spinal column – named after the doctor who first observed them in the late 1980s – which are indicative of infection.


The patient may then be prescribed a course of antibiotics for 100 days. The long course of treatment – antibiotics normally clear infections in a week or two – is necessary because the infected discs in the spine have a limited blood supply.

Peter Hamlyn, a private spinal surgeon and honorary consultant neurosurgeon at University College London Hospital, said the discovery was "the stuff of Nobel Prizes". He added: "This is going to require us to rewrite the textbooks."

The treatment was discovered by Hanne Albert, a physiotherapist from the University of Southern Denmark.

Asked why the major medical journals had declined to publish the paper, she said it "took guts" for a journal to go against the grain of established thinking.

She added: "After it had been rejected by three journals, I wrote to the editor of the 'European Spine Journal' and asked if he had the guts to do it." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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