In a recent article published in the European Spine Journal (April 2013, 22:697-707), a group of Danish researchers experimented with treatment for low back pain by giving their patients antibiotics.
The Only Cause of the Pain Was Herniated Disc
The research was a randomized controlled, double-blind study with a sample size of 162 patients (all of whom had chronic low back pain due to a herniated disc). In each patient, their pain lasted greater than six months.
In the study, the primary outcome measure was disease-specific disability affecting the lumbar spine. The secondary outcome measures were leg pain, the number of hours with pain lasting four weeks, and other markers. The experimental group received antibiotic therapy, while the control group received a placebo (calcium carbonate).
One Year Reevaluation
Each group was re-evaluated after a one-year follow-up. 144 of the 162 original patients were re-evaluated after one year. The others dropped out. The results of the study were that the group which received the antibiotics had a better outcome than the group which received the placebo.
Anaerobic Bacteria Was Found
Researchers (under strict sterile conditions) removed herniated disc material and found it contained a number of anaerobic bacteria, namely (Propionibacterium Acnes, and Corynebacterium Propinquum). The intervertebral disc does not have a good direct blood supply. Subsequently, it is an ideal environment for anaerobic bacteria to grow. An anaerobic bacteria is one that thrives in an oxygen-free environment. While aerobic bacteria require oxygen. In one study, 37% of the patients with lumbar disc herniation bacteria were identified, mainly P. Acnes.
The Results of The Study
When the story about this research article broke, the headlines read: “Researchers Claim 40% of All Low Back Pain Can Be Cured By Antibiotics.” They lauded it as a medical breakthrough – some of them going so far as to say the researchers were worthy of a Nobel Prize.
I personally was simultaneously amused and upset by the way the media spares no time in running headline stories about any research paper that justifies the use of even more drugs. (It’s no small coincidence that these same networks are all saturated with drug ads).
The general public has no training in health care, nor the technical skill to critically evaluate a research article. These same people are susceptible to believing what they’re being told. And in this case, they will respond by seeking out more drugs for their health care issues. That’s cause for concern. We as a people are already over-medicated.
There Are Many Causes of Back Pain
A herniated disc is one cause of back pain. However, there are several other causes.
- Traumatic injury resulting in a sprain/strain (to the muscles and ligaments)
- Misalignment of the vertebrae (subluxation)
- Arthritis, fractures, auto-immune disease, spinal stenosis, cancer (and various metastatic bone diseases), metabolic disease, scoliosis, abnormal posture, repetitive stress injuries, fibromyalgia, obesity, nutritional deficiencies, and yes, disc herniation.
Disc problems represent a small percentage of all the different types of problems resulting in chronic spinal pain. And the authors of the study admitted, there was no evidence of these microbes in any conditions other than a herniated disc.
Only 37% of herniated disc patients were found to have anaerobic microbes.
Herniated Disc Accounts for A Small Percent
In short, only an exceptionally small percentage of the population of people suffering from chronic low back pain could be due to herniated discs (subsequent to anaerobic microbial infection). How the media got to “40% of ALL low back pain” is a mystery.
And now we need to consider another issue. Let’s assume that they’re correct, that roughly 37% of people with a herniated disc could have an infection with these anaerobic bacteria. Does that necessarily mean we need to use antibiotics as a remedy? Is that the ONLY option? The researchers gave no indication they tried anything else (other than a placebo – using a cheap version of calcium).
A Drug-Free Solution
Anaerobic bacteria cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment. One way of changing the amount of this type of bacteria is to increase the oxygen levels in the disc. The way of doing that is to exercise. Exercise increases the oxygenation of the body. Regardless if it involves swimming, walking, lifting weights, or yoga, increasing motion will deliver more oxygen throughout the body. This will kill off anaerobic bacteria. And you don’t need a drug to accomplish this.
Antibiotics come with risks. First, they not only will kill the “bad bacteria”, but they will also kill off all the “good bacteria” which your body needs in order to stay healthy. For example, antibiotics kill the “friendly bacteria” that live in your gut. We need this bacteria to form normal stool, assist in the proper absorption of nutrients, produce a normal amount of serotonin & dopamine, build a healthy immune system, and many other functions. Additionally, By regular exposure to antibiotics increases the risk of creating drug-resistant strains of germs.
There is a time and place for all healing. Sometimes drug therapy (such as antibiotics) is the best choice. Other times a drug-free therapeutic approach is more appropriate. If you could resolve a problem without drugs, why use drugs? There is a far greater risk involved with drug therapy in comparison to safer approaches (such as chiropractic, exercise, laser, pulse wave, and decompression).