A new back pain medication, initially hailed to be a breakthrough in safe pain management, was found to be no more effective in treating back pain over time than other pain treatments, according to a study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Back pain affects nearly two-thirds of Americans and is the leading cause of disability in people 45 years of age and younger. Treatment for sciatica, or pain that radiates from the back into the buttocks and legs, typically involves epidural steroid injections that don’t always dull the pain and can put patients at risk for serious side effects including hip arthritis and stomach ulcers. It can also hamper one’s immunity.
However, etanercept, sold under the brand name Enbrel, offered a glimmer of promise. It is in a class of medications known as TNF inhibitors and was first approved in November 1998 for the treatment of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It has since been approved to treat severe polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (AS), and moderate to severe plaque psoriasis.
Because of the central role of TNF-alpha in many diseases and conditions, etanercept is being studied as a treatment for a number of conditions for which is not yet approved, including back pain. Specialists have been hopeful that a safer alternative to an epidural steroid to treat back pain was in the works, but clinical trials are showing disappointing results.
In the recent study, 84 people were divided into three groups and given injections of either steroids, etanercept, or a placebo. They were not told which they were given. Patients were followed for six months, after injections two weeks apart. After one month, patients on steroids showed the greatest pain relief. After six months, however, patients on the placebo or etanercept were found to have slightly more relief from pain than the steroid group.
Researchers say that many people who suffer from back pain eventually heal on their own without treatment. But for patients with chronic pain, it is important to know that there are studies trying to identify the best treatment possible.
Source: USA Today