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Hospitals Take Shot At Easing Back Pain Without Surgery

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Back pain is one of the most common complaints in doctor's offices. Soothing chronic back pain without surgery is working wonders for some.

Priscilla Mabe is eager for relief for a herniated disc in her spine.

"As a result, I'm in pain constantly -- 24/7," she said.

Dr. Tom Bucheit, an anesthesiologist, gives Mabe a second epidural steroid injection to relieve the pain.

His office at Rex Hospital, along with several other pain centers across the country, are conducting a study that will compare two different injection methods.

With one method, the needle goes in straight from behind the spine. In the other, the injection goes in from the side.

"It looks like both are safe, both work effectively. Again, no one's compared the two," Bucheit said.

Not long ago, doctors placed steroids in the approximate area of the effected disc. Now with both methods, X-ray pictures guide the needle placement right where the drug is needed.

"Therefore, you don't have to use as much a volume. You can use a smaller volume, a more concentrated drug," Bucheit said.

Bucheit says the pain comes from a degenerative disc between bones of the spinal column. It can leak an irritating chemical onto nearby nerve roots. The deflated disc can put pressure on the spinal cord or surrounding nerves.

"This is the area where her disc herniation and inflammatory pain is, so we want focal delivery of the drug right here," Bucheit demonstrated.

Many people with back pain find relief with physical therapy or medication. Epidural steroid injections are the last line of conservative treatments. If they do not work, doctors may recommend surgery.

The approach is working for Mabe.

"Since I've had these shots, I am a lot better," Mabe said. "I can tell a big difference in the pain in the morning and I'm sleeping a little longer."

Doctors hope they can find the best method of delivering the injections so that more people might avoid surgery.