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Study examines if antibiotics are helpful in combating back pain

It happens at factories, offices, warehouses, construction sites, retail operations and other job sites everyday: A worker suffers a serious back injury while performing an otherwise routine task.

What makes these back injuries so frustrating for employees is that they are often difficult to treat, leading to missed work days, a reduction in abilities and a lifetime of discomfort.

Interestingly, Danish researchers are now claiming in a study published in the European Spine Journal that they may have discovered a highly effective method of treating chronic lower back pain that could bring relief to as much as 40 percent of sufferers.

The treatment in question concerns those diagnosed with herniated or "slipped" discs in their spinal vertebrae. Specifically, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark determined in a previous study that upwards of 53 percent of back injury patients have a certain type of non-lethal bacteria present in their herniated discs.

Using this information, the researchers devised a second study in which they asked 162 patients suffering from chronic lower back pain caused by slipped discs for over six months to take a 100-day regimen of antibiotics. (Half of the group received the antibiotics while the other half received a placebo.)

The researchers determined after a one-year follow-up that the patients who took the antibiotics showed a reduction in lower back pain, leg pain, physical disability and time away from work.

While some in the medical community are hailing this as a major breakthrough, others remain cautious.

“Unless you’ve had a disc herniation … I don’t think you should be getting too excited, and I don’t think this is going to be a treatment for you,” said one British medical professional. ”I think this is another useful building block of evidence, but I don’t think it’s either a cure or the answer to back pain.”

Other experts point out that the benefits of this approach are really confined to a select group of back injury sufferers and that it is perhaps unwise to administer antibiotics in this fashion given the proliferation of so-called superbugs over the last few years.

Please visit our workers' compensation page to learn more about your rights and your options in the event of a serious workplace accident.

Source: CBS-New York, “Antibiotics may relieve back pain symptoms,” Peter Russell, May 17, 2013

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