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For people with herniated disc, biomarker may signal whether pain treatment will work

For people suffering from back pain, there’s about a 25 percent chance the culprit is a herniated disc, commonly known as a slipped disc, which occurs most often in the lower back. While the condition generally gets better within six months, it can be quite painful, resulting in soreness in the legs and rear end. Physicians often try to relieve this pain with a steroid injection in the spine, but according to Stanford orthopaedic surgeon Gaetano Scuderi, MD, there’s only about a 50 percent chance this approach will work.

“Most people figure, ‘Hey, I have nothing to lose,’” Scuderi recently told me. “However, there is a significant expense, not to mention the procedural risks and lost productivity.”

In a study appearing in the Aug. 15 edition of Spine, Scuderi and colleagues show how they identified a unique protein complex that may signal whether a patient will respond to an epidural steroid injection. As I write in a press release, testing for this biomarker could offer several advantages to patients:

If patients with lower-back pain could be screened to determine whether they would respond to the injections, they could be spared the discomfort and cost of a futile procedure, Scuderi said, as well as its potential complications, such as bleeding, infection and thinning and even death of bone tissue.

This research involved 26 patients, and the authors say larger trials are needed.

Photo by planetc1

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