Questions raised about new treatment for low back pain

By Greg Hamilton • Published: November 14th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If you have chronic low back pain, you can count yourself as part of the in-crowd. Nearly 80 percent of us contend with it, especially as adults.

There are a number of ways to address the pain, and one of the newer methods involves a class of drugs known as gabapentinoids,(gabba-PEN-tin-oids) which have been shown to be effective in treating nerve pain.

But researchers have found the drugs might not work any better than over-the-counter meds when it comes to low back pain. In fact, in three of the studies examined, the drugs did not perform any better than a placebo.

Researchers in Canada set out to explore the effectiveness of gabapentin, also known by its brand name Neurontin, because it has become one of the most-prescribed drugs in the nation. They say it’s increasingly used for a variety of ailments, particularly chronic pain, despite no clear rationale for doing so, and even after questions have been raised about its use.

The researchers found only a handful of randomized, controlled trials of the drug and the results were hardly promising. In one study of a gabapentinoid sold under the brand name Lyrica, acetaminophen and ibuprofen did a better job of relieving low back pain. This is important, the researchers said, because use of the gabapentinoids has been associated with an increased risk of dizziness, fatigue, visual disturbances and difficulties with mental acuity.

Their study, published in the online journal PLOS Medicine, showed there is limited evidence to support the use of the drugs for treating chronic low back pain and their continued use merits caution — and further study in larger clinical trials.