-- --, --
The treatment, vertebroplasty, injects an acrylic cement into bones in the spinal column to ease the pain from cracks caused by osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disorder common in older people.
Doctors began performing it in this country in the 1990s, patients swore by it ― some reporting immediate relief from terrible pain ― and it soon caught on, without any rigorous trials to determine whether it really worked.
The studies of vertebroplasty, being published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, found it no better than a placebo.
The researchers prepared cement even during the sham procedure, so patients would smell it and imagine they were receiving it. The Americans assessed the patients one month later, and the Australians at one week and at one, three and six months.
Vertebroplasty failed the test in both studies. The treated patients and the control group each had pain relief, but there was no difference between them.