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Back pain solutions often ignored by doctors

Fox News reports a new study suggests that many doctors are ignoring recommended back pain treatments and suggestions and instead offering unnecessary tests, prescribing addictive pain medications and performing expensive and unnecessary surgeries.

Author of a recent study and professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Bruce Landon, argues that many patients who go to the doctor with back pain may not have the back pain in a few months and if they can just wait and try some of the less invasive, hands-off approaches it could resolve their issues. Suggestions for more moderate pain relief and treatments include over the counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen and physical therapy.

Dr. Landon suggests that although doctors may be eager to send their patients for expensive imaging tests such as MRIs, and CT scans or even recommend they see a specialist these suggestions may do nothing to improve the back pain. One of the leading concerns of researchers in the study was the increase of narcotic prescriptions for back pain. Narcotic usage increased from 19.3 percent from 1999 to 2000 to 29.1 from 2009 to 2010. The number of CT scans or MRIs also increased from 7.2 percent to 11.3 percent during the study period. Critics of the aggressive practice of referrals to specialists note that referrals often lead to an increase in surgeries and costly imaging techniques.

Back Pain and waiting to see a doctor

But are patients with back pain running to the doctor within the first days or weeks of experiencing the pain? The answer probably depends on their medical insurance coverage. Many patients without insurance coverage probably wait several months for the condition to heal itself.

For instance, I had debilitating sciatica for six months before I went to a specialist. I endured the weeks of unsuccessful treatments such as moderate pain relievers and physical therapy with no relief. Like many other patients, I experienced pain radiating down my leg that was so severe I had trouble walking and sleeping. By the time I went to my doctor I was done “managing the pain.” I was physically fit, at my ideal weight and had strong core strength, but I still had debilitating pain and I wanted answers, more than that I needed a solution to alleviate the pain.

Other patients have endured the same issues and pain and want answers too. For what turned out to be a herniated disc I was able to have a fairly easy procedure which included one steroid injection and modified physical exercise. I have now been pain free for three years.

Doctor Landon suggests for the majority of patients this type of procedure could be unnecessary and he may be right. Getting exercise, reducing your weight and following other strategies may help improve your back issues with time, but it may not.

How long should you wait to get help for back pain?

Some doctors suggest waiting several months to see if your back pain will dissipate. Depending on your condition, this could be the right solution for you. And Dr. Landon also suggests Americans may have started to expect what he calls an “instant solution to our problems.” This is true in many cases, but not in mine. I remember hobbling into the doctor’s office dragging my right leg behind me after six months of waiting for my condition to “heal itself.”  I posit that many doctors don’t understand how severe and debilitating back pain can be, and if they did they would not begrudge their patients a solution that could change their life.