Study Finds That Common Back Pain Drug Is About as Effective as a Placebo

A best-selling drug that is usually prescribed for lower back pain may turn out to work well at all. According to Bloomberg, a small study could indicate that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s most popular drug, Lyrica (which is also called pregabalin), isn’t effective for improving back pain.

The study, which was published this month in the journal Neurology, reported that patients who were taking Lyrica ultimately saw no more improvement in their back pain than those who took a placebo. The trial was comprised of 29 people over the age of 50, who suffer from severe lumbar spinal stenosis.

Lumbar spinal stenosis is caused by the narrowing of the canal through which spinal nerves pass, which can be caused by the thickening of ligaments or arthritis.

“While physicians have increasingly looked for medication alternatives to opioid pain medication like gabapentin and pregabalin to help these patients manage their pain,” said John Markman, M.D., director of the Translational Pain Research Program in the University of Rochester Department of Neurosurgery, and lead author of the study. “Until now there has been no credible evidence as to whether or not these treatments are effective for this problem.”

Lyrica is just one of a number of different medications that are used to treat back pain; others include acetaminophen, oral steroids, narcotic drugs, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and NSAIDs.

“Here at Sierra Regional Spine Institute we typically prescribe lyrica for radicular symptoms, not for back pain,” says Casey Dye, APRN, Sierra Regional Spine Institute. “Our patients have had good success with reducing their leg pain (radicular symptoms) with this medication. For back pain we do not prescribe Lyrica. Other treatment types include physical therapy and home exercise programs.

Experts estimate that as much as three-quarters of the population will suffer from a back problem at one point in their lives. Additionally, over 26 million Americans ages 20 to 64 suffer from back pain each year. Though the study was rather small and could be anecdotal, there is still a focus on non-surgical alternatives for the treatment of back pain, which could be promising for many of those back pain sufferers.

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