Seventeen patients with intractable sciatica due to prolapse of a lumbar disc, treated by intradiscal injection of chymopapain (chemonucleolysis) were studied. Analysis of serial 24 hour urine collections showed a significant increase in urinary glycosaminoglycan after chemonucleolysis. This was not detected in four patients undergoing routine discography. Enzymic analysis of urinary glycosaminoglycan after chemonucleolysis suggested that the increase in levels was largely due to an increase in the amounts of chondroitin sulphate present, probably resulting from proteoglycan breakdown in the intervertebral disc. Eight of the patients treated by chemonucleolysis underwent serial computed tomography (CT). One month after the injection the only change seen was a loss of definition of the disc prolapse, which could be interpreted as a loss of turgidity in the disc as a result of proteoglycan breakdown by chymopapain. By six months the CT of those patients whose symptoms had improved showed that the degree of disc prolapse was usually less marked and the disc margin more clearly defined, suggesting that by this stage anatomical remodelling had occurred.
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