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Back pain could be solved by revolutionary new theory

9th May 2013

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

It was reported in The Independent this week that a revolutionary theory concerning back pain has emerged which could drastically change the lives of stairlift users in the future. Although the research has been dismissed by some leading medical journals, one surgeon has said that the discoverer should win a Nobel Prize if proven to be definitively true.

The discovery was made by Hanne Albert, a physiotherapist from the University of Southern Denmark, who has likened the importance of her research to the discovery in the 1980s that a bacterium in the stomach was the cause of stomach ulcers, meaning that antibiotics could be used to treat it, rather than surgery.

The revolutionary theory suggests that up to 40% of patients who have severe, long term back pain could be treated with antibiotics, rather than going down the surgery route. Although the treatment is not as simple as just replacing painkillers with antibiotics, it could significantly improve the lives of back pain sufferers by avoiding painful surgery.

The treatment would require the patient to have an MRI scan which could detect distinctive changes in the spinal column – Modic changes – which indicate bacterial infection. The practitioner would need to be trained specifically to be able to distinguish between pain caused by the infection and pain inflicted by other causes. Following this scan, a patient with bacterial infection in the spinal column could then be prescribed a course of antibiotics for 100 days which could see them get up from rise and recline chairs with less and less difficulty. The course of antibiotics is longer than the typical 1-2 weeks as there is limited or no blood supply to infected discs in the spine.

The study was reportedly turned down by such reputed medical journals as the Lancet and BMJ because the paper goes "against the grain of established thinking" according to Hanne Albert, but a specialist journal, the European Spine Journal, were more than willing to give her report credit, describing it as "an extremely important piece of research". Although Dr Donal McNally, a member of the editorial board of the European Spine Journal, has said that the theory is based on a specific form of back pain, it could still improve the lives of thousands of people if further research into the theory is carried out.

The findings of the study were also praised by Peter Hamlyn, a private spinal surgeon and honorary consultant neurosurgeon at University College London Hospital, who said that the discovery was "the stuff of Nobel Prizes".

Image Credit: planetc1 (flickr.com)