One of the most popular treatments for neck, back, and joint pains —steroid injections—can be dangerous, and in rare cases can cause paralysis and death according to a warning issued by the FDA in April, 2014. Considering that approximately 4 in 10, or 75 million, Americans live with chronic pain (back pain, arthritis, joint pain, tendonitis, shoulder pain, nerve pain, overuse injuries etc) this warning should be big news, but few people know about the risks of these treatments.
The FDA is late to the game when it comes to concern about the safety of the shots when they’re injected into the spine. In other parts of the world tougher restrictions on the use of corticosteroids in the neck and back are already on labels. Patient advocates and researchers who have identified safety concerns with the injections have been pushing the FDA for years to take action.
As early as 2007, a survey of doctors in the journal Spine uncovered 78 cases of patients who received steroid injections in the neck suffering serious injuries, including 13 deaths. In other cases, the injections have been linked to loss of vision or paralysis in patients. The agency said in late 2011 that it was studying safety issues related to the shots and yesterday indicated it first became concerned in 2009. Yet it took five years to issue the 322-word warning.
Sandy Walsh, an FDA spokeswoman, said that the warning is the result of an ongoing effort to understand the causes of “serious neurologic events” with the injections and identify ways to minimize them. Dennis Capolongo, a patient advocate who has been pushing for more aggressive restrictions on the steroids, said while the warning from the FDA is appreciated, it is too mild and comes too late. Doctors in the U.S. administer about 9 million epidural injections a year. “Many people have been harmed in the interim,” he said of the years the FDA has been studying the issue. Capolongo said organizations representing patients who have suffered serious side effects from the shots are pushing the FDA to require labels on the steroids indicating they should not be used at all for epidural injections. The agency is also convening an advisory committee of experts to determine if further action is needed.
The FDA action also highlights a harsh reality. Conventional treatments for back, neck, and joint pains remain an imperfect science. Steroid injections and prescription medications provide mostly temporary benefits, and bring risks. Surgeries, like spinal fusion, are more invasive, and don’t always work.
Alternative options such as Acupuncture and Biopuncture offer significant results with fewer side effects.
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