Researchers Uncover Surprising Cause of Back Pain: Acne Bacteria

Tuesday, 14 May 2013 10:43 AM

By Nick Tate

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New research has found that the same bacteria that cause skin acne can also lead to chronic lower back pain.
 
Scientists at the University of Southern Denmark determined antibiotics that kill acne bacteria can greatly reduce back discomfort — eliminating the need for prescription drugs, physical therapy, and follow-up surgery.
 
The findings, published in the European Spine Journal, are based on studies of 162 patients who suffered slipped — herniated — discs. They found discs in most patients had become infected with acne bacteria and treating them with an antibiotic — Bioclavid — eliminated back pain in nearly half of them.
 
“The antibiotic protocol in this study was significantly more effective for this group of patients than placebo in all the primary and secondary outcomes,” the researchers concluded.
 

For decades, medical researchers have sought more effective ways to treat back pain, one of the most common causes of doctor visits and missed work. It is often caused by problems with intervertebral discs that provide a natural cushion between the bones of the back (vertebrae). Age and stress on the back can cause the discs to bulge out from between the bones or leak the jelly-like material inside — a condition known as a slipped or herniated disc. In some case, a slipped disc puts pressure on nerves of the spine, causing pain.
 
Treatments typically involve painkillers, physical therapy, weight-loss, exercise, and surgery — but relief is often elusive.
 
The new recent research opens the door to an entirely new way to alleviate back pain.
The Danish researchers noted the primary bacterium involved in the formation of acne — Proprionibacterium acnes — can spread inside the body over time.
 
In 2008, the University of Southern Denmark team led by Hanne B. Albert, M.D., conducted a small study that found more than 60 percent of back-pain patients treated with antibiotics had improvement lasting more than a year. The team then conducted a follow-up study involving 162 back-surgery patients who were given antibiotics and then tracked for one year.
 
The results showed significant improvement in back pain for about half of those given antibiotics for a 100-day period. By comparison, patients who received a placebo reported only a marginal 6 percent improvement.
 
Researchers cautioned that the findings don’t mean all back pain can be treated with antibiotics. But experts say the study suggests the bacteria-killing drugs may be another weapon to aim at chronic lower back pain.
 



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