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Botox could help back pain

A new study suggests Botox may help relieve chronic back pain
A new study suggests Botox may help relieve chronic back pain  

(CNN) -- A drug derived from a type of bacteria that causes food poisoning may provide relief for those who suffer chronic low back-pain, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center found that people who received injections of botulinum toxin A, or Botox, experienced a reduction in back pain for as long as three to four months.

But they noted that "this conclusion should be considered cautiously, due to the small number of patients studied" -- just 15 men and 16 women. Details of the study appear in Tuesday's issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

According to the study, nearly 90 percent of adults experience back pain during some time in their lives, and chronic low back pain costs the American economy about $50 billion each year.

Michael Ramina, one of the study participants, began experiencing back pain after a parachuting accident 20 years ago.

"Something as simple as putting a grocery bag in a car, my legs would just stop working," Ramina said. "I'd find myself on the parking lotů just numb."

All the people who took part in the research had experienced lower back pain for an average of six years, and all of them were taking various medications to relieve the pain, inflammation and muscle spasms associated with their condition. They stayed on the medication throughout the experiment. Fifteen patients received botulinum toxin A, or Botox, injections, and 16 received a placebo of saline solution. After three weeks, 11 of the 15 Botox patients said their pain diminished by at least half. Four of the 16 who received saline said their pain had been reduced by at least 50 percent.

After two months, nine of the 15 Botox recipients said their pain had been reduced by more than 50 percent. Only two patients on the saline solution reported a similar reduction.

The Botox treatment appeared to be safe. While two patients on saline said their pain got worse, none of Botox patients reported a worsening of pain or any negative side effects, although flu-like symptoms can occur.

The relief wasn't permanent, however; Botox patients needed another injection after three to four months. Lead study author Dr. Bahman Jabbari said more studies are needed to determine if the relief continues after repeated injections.

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

Botox is typically used to treat muscle spasms and migraines, and to reduce the appearance of facial wrinkles.

Ramina said he felt better within a week of getting his Botox injection.

"Has it fixed it completely? No. I know it everyday. But do I have episodes where my legs just stop working because of the shooting pains? No. That's stopped."

Doctors said there are several reasons patients might have experienced less pain after receiving the injections. The drug may have reduced patients' muscle spasms or reduced sensory input to the spinal cord.

CNN Medical Correspondent Rea Blakey contributed to this report.

• American Academy of Neurology
• BackCare
• MEDLINEplus: Back Pain

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