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Steroids may not be the most effective back, leg pain treatment

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Steroids may not be the panacea for back pain and spinal issues many doctors and patients believe it is, according to a new study that claims deep data on the effectiveness and safety of such painkiller injections is lacking.

The study reveals steroids mixed with the painkiller lidocaine aren't any more effective treatment than the use of lidocaine alone.

"These (injections) are so commonly used and the steroids do pose an added risk to patients without much benefit," said the study's lead author Dr. Janna Friedly of the University of Washington in Seattle. Friedly said she thinks doctors should think twice about recommending using lidocaine and steroids as a treatment.

"I do hope patients and their doctors will be more cautious about using them," she said.

The study, "A Randomized Trial of Epidural Glucocorticoid Injections for Spinal Stenosis Epidural," notes that such glucocorticoid injections are widely used to treat symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis, a common cause of pain and disability in older adults.

The research involved 400 patients suffering from back and leg pain. The patients received one or two injections before the primary outcome evaluation, performed six  weeks after randomization and the first injection.

After six weeks there "were no significant" differences between those who had a steroid and lidocaine treatment and those who only were given a lidocaine treatment.

"In the treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis, epidural injection of glucocorticoids plus lidocaine offered minimal or no short-term benefit as compared with epidural injection of lidocaine alone," states the study's conclusions.

"It's looking like it may be a little harder to justify doing those injections for spinal stenosis in patients. But it doesn't show it's not effective at all," said Dr. D. Scott Kreiner, co-chairman of the guidelines committee of the North American Spine Society. Kreiner was not involved in the research.

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