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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 23:46 GMT 00:46 UK
Toxin could help back pain
back pain
Low back pain costs businesses millions of pounds
A nerve poison could help treat patients with chronic low back pain, American researchers claim.

The powerful botulinum toxin can ease severe muscle spasms for up to three months, although the expense of a single treatment may prevent it becoming widely available on the NHS.

However, some patients with severe pain caused by multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy already receive the treatment in this country.

As well as being a source of misery for hundreds of thousands of patients, low back pain costs the UK economy millions each year through time taken off work sick.

The small trial, conducted by the Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC, involved 31 patients, who randomly received either the toxin, or an injection of saline.

Six years of pain

All of them had experienced pain for at least six months - on average, they had suffered for six years.

However, three weeks after receiving the injections, almost three-quarters of those receiving the drug said the level of their pain had receded by 50% or more, compared to a quarter of those simply given the saline.

This effect continued beyond the eight week mark for 60% of the toxin patients.

There were no reported side-effects from the injections, which prevent nerve impulses from flowing to and from the pain site.

The effects wore off between three and four months later, but Dr Bahman Jabbari is hopeful that repeated jabs will work as well.

He said: "That has been the case for patients who receive botulinum toxin injections for other disorders, such as the muscle disorders dystonia and spasticity, so hopefully that will be true for people with low back pain as well."

'Larger studies needed'

However, some pain management specialists in the UK are unconvinced that the drug can now be recommended for low back pain in this country.

Dr Beverley Collett, a consultant from Leicester Royal Infirmary, told BBC News Online: "I'd like to see some larger studies - the jury is still out on this.

"I have used the drug to help patients with MS and cerebral palsy who have back pain, but not for back pain without any other cause."

The drug can cost several hundred pounds for one treatment, and Dr Collett said that the high price would have be weighed up against the cost of sick leave and other medical treatment.

The research was published in the journal Neurology.

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16 Oct 00 | Health
Back pain cripples small firms
30 Jun 99 | Health
Back pain torments millions
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