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Steroids do little to help lower back pain, study suggests

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A new study from the Oregon Health & Science University has found that epidural corticosteroid injections used to treat lower back pain are ineffective at providing long-term results, Fox News reports.

Dr Roger Chou and a team of researchers from the university looked at over 30 studies involving radiculopathy and eight trials involving spinal stenosis, and also reviewed 38 placebo-controlled studies for lower back pain.

The team discovered that within a few weeks of receiving epidural corticosteroid treatment the pain reduced and function was partially restored; however within three months these positive results had subsided.

Researchers analysed the ability of epidural corticosteroid injections to restore function and reduce pain and the need for surgery within a few weeks and within a few months. These types of injections are very popular but some doctors consider them to be overused, with over nine million injections administered in the U.S. every year.

Chou noted that these findings are particularly significant as previous studies on the treatment looked at continuous outcomes but not placebo types and techniques. This study not only considered three different methods for steroid administration (transforaminal, interlaminar and caudal), but also three different types of placebo intervention (saline, local anaesthetic and soft tissue).

These types of steroid injections have been administered “for at least 30 or 40 years or longer”, Chou said; and since there is no “good evidence on treatments in general” for lower back pain, people often turn to recognised techniques.

It is being recommended that such injections only be used for first-line treatment of lower back pain when therapy and conventional painkillers don´t work.