Epidural steroid injections are not very effective in treating low back pain, a new research suggests. Researchers found that this course of action lowers back pain only briefly and not significantly.
Past studies had shown similar results but doctors continue to recommend them as treatment for low back pain caused by broken disks or the narrowing of spaces between the bones of the spine (also known as stenosis). That’s because medical practitioners tend to believe more other research papers that had shown the injections can prove beneficial.
In their research, a team of scientists from the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland dug into data gathered by more than 60 research papers. Lead author of the study Dr. Roger Chou concluded that both doctors and patients perceive the injections as having more benefits than they really do.
Dr. Chou added that every patient is entitled to know the truth about the procedure and make an informed decision. The team found that epidural steroid injections can significantly relieve pain in fractured discs but they have no effect in narrowed vertebrae.
The procedure is also believed to reduce the need of undergoing disc surgery, but in the long run the shots were as efficient as a placebo in preventing these surgeries, researchers noted.
The research team also found that there weren’t any improvements in patients if they used different types of steroids or injection methods. Fortunately, the latest study showed that the injections were not tied to major complications. Study authors reported only small bleeding events, blood clots, and nerve root soreness.
Dr. Chou admitted that in these cases of spinal damage – fractured disc or stenosis – patients are left with a single option – disc surgery. So, people may still opt for steroid injections as pain relievers even though they are short-lived and the reduction of pain is relatively small.
On the other hand, the new study doesn’t seem too convincing to doctors. Dr. Zack McCormick at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine believes that the recent review is of “low-quality” and the findings cannot be applied to real cases of spinal medicine.
Dr. McCormick explained that the shots are not long-term solutions. They aren’t even supposed to be a ‘cure.’ They are simply a method of relieving pain even if that’s just for a short time. Additionally, they can also help patients better tolerate physical therapy and sleep better at night.
The doctor also added that steroid injections are more effective when combined with other treatment methods such as physical therapy and prescription drugs.
Image Source: Flickr