NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s a potential new treatment for the dreaded, excruciating back pain called sciatica.
It involves a tiny pellet injected into the back that’s loaded with blood pressure medicine.
Most drugs have multiple actions. Aspirin, for instance, blocks pain, reduces inflammation, and thins the blood. Similarly, a blood pressure drug may also block pain. The trick is to get it just to where the sciatica pain starts.
That’s where the little pellet came in for Linda Triplett. It was a regular day at work for her when suddenly she stood up from her desk and felt something pop.
“”I couldn’t hardly walk at all,” she said. “The pain was just terrible.”
She says there were days she couldn’t even get out of bed. Doctors say sciatica was to blame.
“Sciatica is when you have inflammation of the nerves in your back, spinal nerves, and you get leg pain, you get back pain, pain shooting down to your foot,” Dr. Ali Rezai from the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at West Virginia University explains.
The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest in the body. It’s formed from nerve roots coming out of the lumbar spine. When those roots get irritated, often due to a bulging or herniated disk, the pain, known as sciatica, can radiate into the buttocks and down the leg.
When conservative treatments like rest, anti-inflammatories, painkillers, and physical therapy or chiropractic treatment fail, surgery is often the last option. Now, researchers are studying a new option that goes directly to the inflamed nerve.
It’s a tiny pellet injected into the back near the inflamed nerve. It slowly dissolves, releasing Clonidine– a blood pressure medication.
“It reduces the transmission of pain signals from the nerve to the brain,” Dr. Rezai said.
For 30 days after the pellet was put in, Linda electronically reported her pain levels and how many Ibuprofen she took.
“I went from a pain level ten down to a three or four,” she said.
300 people across 20 medical centers will take part in the clinical trial. If the study shows the pellets work better than a placebo, the treatment will go before the Food and Drug Administration for approval.
“It’s much better,” Linda said. “I’m walking better, I’m getting around a lot better. I haven’t taken any kind of pain medication.”
The study is what’s called “double blind,” meaning neither Linda nor her doctors know if she got the real pellet or a placebo. Either way, she got pain relief. Since Clonidine is just released locally along the nerve, it doesn’t lower blood pressure — minimizing side effects.