Report Shows Many Are Prescribed Ineffective Treatment for Lower Back Pain

When we think about diseases, conditions, and injuries that affect a large group of the population, many times issues like cancer or heart disease come to mind right off the bat. While those concerns are responsible for taking the lives of many Americans year after year, another condition has the ability to put you out of a job or potentially be on disability far more often.
We’re talking about lower back pain, which affects nearly 31 million Americans. It’s a problem that is much bigger than many realize, as it’s the number one reason people call in sick to work. Americans spend more than $50 billion annually on doctor visits, treatments, and medications just for their back.
One can’t help but wonder, as more and more people each year struggle with lower back pain, if the treatments being prescribed are actually effective. One recent publication shows that medical professionals may be dealing with the issue incorrectly.

Typical Treatment

Professor Rachelle Buchbinder from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia collaborated with a team of experts to release a series of papers in the Lancet medical journal. Their findings outlined the routine course of treatment that a physician would prescribe for lower back pain, and also contrasted other effective measures to see if the medical community is actually prescribing appropriate treatment.
Lower back pain is a global issue, with over 540 million people worldwide suffering from this condition. Buchbinder and her team noted that when a patient visits their primary care physician complaining of lower back pain, many times the following are strongly advised:

  • Resting in a comfortable position
  • Lower your amount of physical activity each day
  • Use an over-the-counter pain reliever
  • Many instances may require prescription medication
  • Consider injections or surgery if the pain persists

A recent study found that the route of prescription pain relief was often the number one recommended course of treatment, with nearly 40% of doctors doling out opioids for lower back pain. While the role of opioids in our current healthcare landscape is a hot-button issue, it still raises the question as to why other methods of treatment aren’t first utilized.

Alternative Methods

Contrary to what a family physician might recommend, there are other courses of treatment for lower back pain that are endorsed by a wide range of groups. The American Pain Societyadvocates for utilizing solutions that include cognitive behavioral therapy like deep breathing exercises. Other resources like Spine-health publish information that discusses common myths about how to treat lower back pain, which often debunk what physicians will recommend, and instead emphasize:

  • Staying active and getting daily exercise to allow your body to naturally heal
  • OTC pain relievers can be helpful without the need for a prescription drug
  • Heat and ice treatment can restore blood flow and help your back to heal
  • A small amount of rest can be beneficial, but an extended lack of movement may hinder your recovery

Why The Difference In Recommendations?

Researchers in the medical community note that studying back pain still presents a bit of a challenge, as a variety of other physical and psychological elements can make it difficult to find clear results. However, despite this element, another disturbing reason for such a difference in treatment plans comes down to one thing: insurance.
It can be difficult to know exactly what any individual insurance plan will pay for, and by the time you factor in deductibles and copayments, patients often trust their physician to make the most economical choice for them. As more and more information about the insurance industry becomes transparent, it’s proven that doctors are leaning toward prescription medication rather than alternative therapies simply due to reimbursements.
Techniques and solutions that could be truly beneficial for those suffering from lower back pain are pushed to the side and instead a one size fits all prescription is written to alleviate a patient’s symptoms. Unfortunately, this standard of care has a significant impact not only on individuals but our economy as a whole.

Looking At The Bigger Picture

Our statistics above describing how much money is spent on trying to alleviate lower back pain is only one piece of the puzzle, as the gap between appropriate care and prescribed care continues to widen. The World Health Organization noted that 149 million work days are lost each year as a result of lower back pain, translating to a nationwide loss in productivity that equals between $100 and $200 billion annually.
Like so many other concerns within the healthcare industry, lower back pain and its treatments extend far beyond the doctor-patient relationship. The effects of insurance providers also play a major role, and until studies can effectively uncover a wider range of treatment options, our economy may also take a hit when people miss work.
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