An expert advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided not to recommend the agency issue a strong warning against the general use of steroid injections for back pain.
The shots are commonly used to treat back pain, but they have never been approved for this use by the FDA.
As reported by the New York Times, the panel of experts said that only in one type of procedure – a specific type of neck injection – could the risk of the shots possibly outweigh a possible benefit.
That procedure is one where the needle comes close to a grouping of small arteries in the neck. Those types of injections could raise the odds of a blocked artery, and are not used by most doctors, the Times reported.
Experts, however have been divided for years on whether steroid shots actually ease back pain.
One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who have lower back pain caused by spinal stenosis, are unlikely to get relief from steroid shots.
However, Dr. Houman Danesh, a specialist in pain management and rehabilitation and physical medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said he believes these injections are both safe and effective.
“Steroid injections have been practiced longer than we have had a vaccine for polio, and after six decades the FDA has decided to review the safety and efficacy of these injections,” he noted.
Danesh believes the FDA’s current interest is based on a 2012 incident, when more than 700 people contracted fungal meningitis and other infections that resulted in more than 60 deaths, all the result of a single compounding pharmacy distributing steroids contaminated with a fungus that caused these complications.
“Steroid injections are a safe and effective means of treating nerve irritation in the spine,” he added.