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Back pain could be a bacterial infection

Jul. 17, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

News flash! There's an astounding discovery in the works about lower back pain and how to cure it. It could be as revolutionary as the realization that H. pylori bacteria are responsible for most ulcers.

Turns out between 40 percent and 80 percent of long-term back pain in people with a herniated or slipped disc is associated with a bacterial infection. The main culprit is the same one that causes acne -- Propionibacterium acnes -- and it can trigger bone swelling and tissue damage in the spine. Whether it migrates there, following the path of inflammation and tissue damage, or it's the original troublemaker that causes those problems isn't clear. But when people with slipped discs were given 100 days of amoxicillin with clavulanic acid (a beta-lactamase inhibitor that increases the effectiveness of the antibiotic), 80 percent saw significant relief of pain and disability up to a year later.

This is big news, because 80 percent of people have back pain at some time in their lives; up to 20 percent never find relief, and another 10 percent have back surgery. So if you have persistent lower-back troubles, ask for a blood test to check for bacterial infection and discuss the possibility of antibiotic treatment before surgery or in conjunction with physical therapy. Some docs are saying this is a discovery worthy of a Nobel prize (the big reward may be to the millions of folks who will feel better if this discovery becomes an accepted treatment option), but confirmation is still a few randomized, clinical trials away.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.

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