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Study Analyzes Impact of Antibiotics on Chronic Low Back Pain

woman with low back pain

If there’s one thing that’s true of people who suffer from chronic low back pain, it’s that they wish there was an instant cure – some kind of pill or potion that would provide them with relief from their constant discomfort. Most have already gone the tried and true route of anti-inflammatory medications, and many have gone on to pursue other conservative approaches ranging from acupuncture to exercise.

Now a group of researchers has published the results of research into whether antibiotics might provide a quick cure. The unfortunate answer is that they apparently can’t.

In an article published in the British Medical Journal in late 2019, researchers revealed the results of a study whose goal was assessing the impact of amoxicillin on those who suffer from chronic low back pain. The authors had previously experienced what had been called a “substantial effect” of a three-month course of antibiotic treatment, but that study’s conclusions had raised more questions than answers.

Some of the suspicions about the accuracy of the original results were spurred by the lack of any improvement at all in the study’s control group, as well as the fact that many of those included in the study had previously undergone disc surgery that would elevate the chances that they were suffering from some kind of bacterial infection that not only would have led to increased back pain, but also would have responded to the antibiotic treatment.

In running the same research under far stricter clinical controls, study author Lars Christian Haugli Bråten of Oslo University Hospital in Oslo, Norway found that patients experienced no clinical improvements as a result of antibiotic therapy. 

The participants in the second study were between the ages of 18 and 65 and had reportedly been experiencing lumbar spine discomfort for at least six months. Their diagnoses included previous lumbar disc herniation that was evident through MRI diagnosis, but none had undergone surgery for the condition in the previous year.

They were also screened to ensure that they had not been treated with antibiotics for any type of infection in the 30 days prior to the study being conducted.

The study split the patients into two groups, with the control group being given placebos and the test group being given oral amoxicillin. Both groups took their pills three times a day over a 90-day period, with the researchers unaware of which participants were in the control group and which were being given the actual antibiotics.

One year after the test had concluded, there was no difference in the level of discomfort between those who were given the amoxicillin and those who were dosed with placebos other than drug-related side effects from the amoxicillin.

These results confirmed the suspicions of the original study and made clear that antibiotics are not a path to chronic back pain recovery.

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