MONDAY, Nov. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Spinal steroid injections -- the type involved in the current fungal meningitis outbreak in the United States -- provide only short-term relief for sciatica-related leg and back pain, according to a new analysis.
Sciatica, a common type of low back pain, is characterized by intense pain shooting down one leg, along with tingling and numbness, as a result of injury or pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Epidural steroid treatments -- injections into the joint spaces of the spine -- have been used to treat back pain for a half-century, but consistent guidelines for their use are nonexistent, according to the new study, which was published Nov. 13 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
In the new analysis, researchers analyzed 23 clinical trials involving more than 3,100 patients; the trials compared steroid injections to other treatments. Researchers had followed patients for a year or longer, gauging pain relief at various points.
"The review showed that [epidural injections] offered only small, short-term improvement in pain and disability for people with sciatica and had no long-term effect," said study co-author Dr. Chris Maher, professor of physiotherapy at the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia.
At two weeks and three months after treatment, 10 trials showed leg-pain relief and 14 reported improvements in disability. But after a year or more, no differences were found in leg pain, back pain or disability for those given injections compared to those given a placebo.
"Given that the treatment effect is likely to be small and short term, patients with sciatica should discuss the potential risks involved in [steroid injections] with their doctor before agreeing to the procedure," said Maher, who also is director of the George Institute for Global Health, in Sydney.
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