Medical Treatment for Back Pain Costs Billions
A study just reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals 26 percent of Americans have back or neck problems that limit their ability to function. That's one in every four people -- a huge segment of the population -- and that huge segment spends a huge amount of money trying to get some relief. According to the report, authored by a medical team at the University of Washington, "spending on [medical] spine treatments in the United States totaled nearly $86 billion in 2005, a rise of 65 percent from 1997." The report studied large numbers of patients seeing medical doctors between the years 1997 and 2005, but it did not include chiropractic care in its findings.
To give you some perspective on the costs cited, the US government spent approximately $17 billion less educating kids in 2005 than back-pain sufferers spent on pain relievers and medical treatments. Plus, according to Alan Hilibrand of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, people with spine problems spent 72% more in 1997 and 73% more in 2005 than those who did not have back pain.
In spite of the staggering and ever-increasing amount of money spent seeking help for back-pain, patients have found little relief in doctor's offices. Back-related complaints rose by five percent during the eight years of the study. In that same time period, the dollars spent on outpatient visits jumped by 74 percent, narcotic pain relievers such as OxyContin improved sales by more than 400 percent, while overall, pharmaceutical sales related to back pain increased by 171 percent. Back-related emergency room visits increased by 46 percent during the time period, and back surgeries surged by 25 percent.
"We're putting a lot of money into this problem, and it's a big investment in health care expenditures, but we're not seeing health status commensurate with those investments," admitted Brook I. Martin, lead author of the study.
While it's commendable that the report 'fesses up' and admits that mainstream medicine offers few solutions to the back-pain epidemic, it conspicuously avoids mentioning that other options might exist -- like chiropractic, for instance. Given that so many back-pain sufferers opt to see a chiropractor, the omission seems most pointed. The medical community has never been particularly enthusiastic about chiropractors, but given that medicine admittedly is failing back patients, one might hope for at least a nod to competitive practices that statistically produce better results.
Are there studies to back up that claim? Most definitely! In fact, significant studies indicate that chiropractic patients spend less and fare better than mainstream patients. A 2005 study published by Medical News Today, for instance, looked at 2780 patients suffering from low-back pain and found that those seeing chiropractors spent 16 percent less while reporting significantly better results than those seeing physicians. Other studies of chiropractic show savings up to 55 percent with a 90 percent satisfaction rate. You might also consider alternative treatments like acupuncture and massage.
And finally, you might want to take steps to avoid back problems in the first place by strengthening your core muscles while increasing your flexibility through a regular exercise regimen. As I point out in my newsletter of 2/26/2007, very few of us have a well-rounded regimen that includes aerobics, strength training, balance practice, weight-bearing routines, and stretching. You need all these aspects in your exercise routine in order to maintain the flexibility and strength that will keep your spine healthy.
In the meantime, you can only shake your head in amazement that a study on back pain treatment would expressly avoid even mentioning those treatments that actually have proven benefits…or that the media reporting on this study make no mention of these options. Then again, $86 billion spent annually on minimally effective medical options speaks volumes.