Americans spending more on back surgery, but few find relief

The AP reports, “Even though only a fraction of people with back pain are good candidates for surgery, complicated spine operations are on the rise. So is the hunt for any relief.”

According to “one recent estimate, Americans are spending a staggering $86 billion a year in care for aching backs – from MRIs to pain pills to nerve blocks to acupuncture. That research found little evidence that the population got better as the bill soared over the past decade.”

The AP notes, “The reality is that time often is the best antidote. Most people will experience back pain at some point, but up to 90 percent will heal on their own within weeks,” and “for run-of-the-mill cases, doctors aren’t even supposed to do an X-ray or MRI unless the pain lingers for a month to six weeks.”

So, what do I recommend to my back pain patients?

  • Unless there are neurological signs, there’s no reason for X-rays, CTs, or MRIs for six months.
  • Initially try stretching and strengthening exercises, OTC NSAIDs (naproxen or ibuprofen), heat/cold therapy, massage therapy, physical therapy, or chiropractic therapy.
  • If no help, try other meds and/or change therapies.
  • If you’ve still had no help, consider seeing a pain specialist for consideration of one of several types of injection therapies.
  • Keep a visit to the surgeon as the last step. And, if you see someone who recommends surgery, get a second or third opinion.
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