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Wonder-Poison Spells Relief for Low Back Pain

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May 21, 2001 -- Add chronic low back pain to the growing list of conditions that tiny amounts of a deadly poison can safely relieve.

Botox, or botulism toxin, when extremely diluted can be used to temporarily paralyze and erase crow's feet and facial wrinkles, put an end to excessive sweating, curb migraine and tension headaches, help with muscle spasticity from multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and stroke.

Although it's an extract of the same chemical that can cause a potentially fatal form of food poisoning called botulism, it's used medically in much lower concentrations. And that's not all; botox is also used for straightening crossed eyes and stopping uncontrolled eyelid spasms.

As if that weren't enough, now new research shows that injecting tiny amounts of this muscle/nerve paralyzer into five muscles along the spine can relax those muscles and relieve back pain by about 50% in about the majority of sufferers. Researchers don't know exactly how botox affects back pain, but they speculate it may reduce the amount and severity of muscle spasms.

These findings will be welcome news for the millions of Americans who suffer from constant, daily low back pain. Nearly 90% of adults experience back pain at some point in their lives and long-term low back pain costs about $50 billion per year in the U.S. Many sufferers will try muscle relaxants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, antidepressants, surgeries, and even alternative approaches such as acupuncture or magnet therapy and still see no relief.

Still, the effects don't last forever. Just as wrinkles return several months after getting botox injections, back pain relief from botox tends to wear off after three to four months. In some people, however, the relief can last as long as six months.

"This seems to be a promising way to treat some patients with low back pain," researcher

Bahman Jabbari, MD, chairman of the department of neurology at Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md., tells WebMD. "I don't think many doctors are using botox for back pain at this point," he says.

"We don't know many back pain sufferers botox will help because this is a small study. In the future, we need to do a larger study that follows patients for a longer time," he says.

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