Back Pain: Incidence, Causes, and Treatment

Dr. Andrew Moore, BioVeda of Alamo Heights, and Dr. Eric Herman, BioVeda of Bethlehem, explore back pain relief this week on their BioVeda blogs:

Although chiropractors care for more than just  back pain, many patients visit chiropractors looking for relief from this pervasive condition. In fact, 31 million Americans experience lower back pain at any given time.

  • One half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.
  • Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work. In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections.
  • Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic-meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer.
  • Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain- and that’s just for the most easily identified costs.
  • Experts estimate that as many as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in our lives.

What causes back pain?
The back is a complicated structure of bones, joints, ligaments and muscles. You can sprain ligaments, strain muscles, rupture disks, and irritate joints, all of which can leas to back pain. While sport injuries or accidents can cause back pain, sometimes the simplest of movements- for example, picking up a pencil from the floor – can have painful results. in addition, arthritis, poor posture, obesity, and psychological stress can cause or complicate back pain. Back pain can also directly result from disease of the internal organs, such as kidney stones, kidney infections, blood clots, or bone loss.

How do I get relief from back pain?
In May of 2009 the highly-respected Consumer Reports featured an article titled “Relief for Aching Backs,” which ranked the top five treatments for back pain according to a recent patient study. This was not a small survey, as it was based on feedback from 14,000 consumers who suffered from back pain and ranked practitioners based on overall satisfaction. [A complete review of this survey appeared in the May 20 issue of DC. See “Consumer Reports Survey Rates DCs Higher Than MDs” online at www.dynamicchiropractic.com.]

According to the survey, 59 percent of patients were “highly satisfied” with the chiropractic care they received (tops among all health care professionals) also disclosed that 54 percent of patients surveyed found exercise helpful, making it the top self-help measure, and 58 percent of respondents wished they had done more exercise to strengthen their backs.

The survey reached beyond practitioner care and assessed feedback from those who had undergone back surgery. Only 60 percent of those surveyed were completely or very satisfied with the results of their back surgery, compared with 82 percent who were satisfied after a knee or hip replacement. More than half of the patients reported at least one problem with recovery, finding it lengthier and more painful than they anticipated; 16 percent indicated their back pain didn’t improve following surgery, and 50 percent said it grew worse. Interestingly, the Consumer Reports article also suggested that if back surgery is recommended, the patient should seek another opinion from a nonsurgical practitioner.

The last part of the Consumer Reports article warned about taking narcotics to treat back pain. The survey found that more than 50 percent of those given a prescription received a narcotic. While clinical trials have shown that narcotics reduce low back pain more than a placebo, the side effects – including respiratory issues, depression and significant gastrointestinal problems – can be extremely troublesome.

With so many repercussions associated with drugs and surgery, no wonder patients surveyed were so highly satisfied with chiropractic treatments for back pain. I’m not saying that drugs are ineffective or that surgery is unnecessary, but simply that patients are recognizing they may have other options. We know through research that the low-force approach to chiropractic adjusting is safe, comfortable and effective in many cases, without the risks of side effects or complications from major surgery.

This was, without a doubt, one of the most even-handed articles about chiropractic that I have ever read in the popular press. Because it centered on patient feedback, and reflected opinions from the people who trust our methods and speak the truth, our approach to healing was treated equitably. And that’s good news indeed.

~Results may vary from patient to patient. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These statements and products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If pregnant or nursing, ask a health professional before use. If symptoms persist or worsen, seek advice of physician.