Doctors are using a type of arthritis drug to treat sciatica - the pain associated with a slipped disc. The drug seeks out and 'silences' compounds involved in inflammation - and early trials show that it can banish pain completely.
Sciatica is caused by irritation and inflammation of the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body, which runs from the back of the pelvis, through the buttocks, and down both legs to the feet.
Sciatica is usually described as a sharp, shooting or burning pain, which radiates down the back towards the foot or ankle.
Most attacks occur when the discs that cushion the bones of the spine begin to bulge or move out of position (known as 'slipping'), pressing on the nerve and triggering inflammation.
Man made antibody
Treatments include painkillers, physiotherapy and steroid injections but, in some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the disc. The arthritis drug adalimumab may provide another option. The drug is a man-made version of a type of immune system compound called an antibody.
These are highly targeted molecules programmed by the body to seek out specific bacteria or viruses. Scientists programme the synthetic antibody to target a specific compound in the body called tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF).
Normally, this compound rises shortly after the body is infected with a bug. This increases inflammation and helps mobilise immune system cells to fight the invader.
- Adalimumab is a man-made version of a type of immune system compound
- Molecules are programmed by the body to seek out bacteria or viruses
- Scientists programme drug to target tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF)
- In one study of 49 sciatica patients, around half had a reduction in leg pain
However - for reasons that are still unknown - in certain so-called autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or the skin condition psoriasis, levels of TNF are permanently high.
This means that the immune system is constantly in a state of high-alert, which may cause the immune cells to malfunction and mistakenly attack healthy cells.