Ouch, my back hurts!

Okay, not really.  Ever since I started sleeping with a pillow under my hips (while sleeping on my stomach), that’s been 95% effective in alleviating any back pain.  When I do get the ocassional back pain, though, I still exercise.  Why, because that’s what’s good for your back.  Really enjoyed this PBS Health article nicely titled, “How the back pain industry is taking patients for an unhealthy ride.”  Basically, this being America, everybody wants a quick fix through surgery (especially surgeons!!) or drugs.  What actually works?  Exercise and physical therapy:

But searching for solutions can lead sufferers into an expensive and sometimes dangerous maze of ineffectual treatments, procedures and pills, as journalist and investigative reporter Cathryn Jakobson Ramin found…

Ramin recently spoke about her investigation with Eric Westervelt on KQED’s Forum program. Here is some of what she said…

Ramin says the fee-for-service payment system in the U.S. incentivizes unnecessary and potentially damaging spine surgery, where in other countries, spine surgery is rare. [emphases mine]

And beware the surgeon who agrees to operate on you after other reputable doctors have turned you down. She gave the example of author, physician and marathon runner Jerome Groopman, who, after five surgeons had told him there was nothing they could do for his back injury, found a sixth who claimed he could operate and get him up and running in six weeks.

“He spent the next 19 years in extraordinary pain,” Ramin says.

Beware the surgeon who agrees to operate on you after other reputable doctors have turned you down.

Ramin also warns against taking the description “minimally invasive spine surgery” literally, calling it a marketing term.

“These are sexy buzzwords,” she says. “Perhaps the incision is small — and it isn’t always. If in fact you do have a small incision, good for you, you might look better in a bathing suit. The damage beneath the skin will be exactly the same as it would be in regular, traditional, conventional spine surgery.” …

However, “If you see a chiropractor more than one or two sessions, you are wasting your time if you are being cracked, adjusted or walked over. Study after study after study has shown that long-term visits to chiropractors don’t help patients. They don’t prevent back pain; they don’t solve back pain.”

She said the World Health Organization has come up with a long list of all the diagnoses for which chiropractic is contra-indicated.( See page 20 here.) “And it’s probably anything that would take you to a chiropractor.” …

Doctors often started out with short-acting pain killers, such as Vicodin, a potent and addictive narcotic. This was often followed by longer-acting, extended-release painkillers, such as the opioid-based Oxycodone — which has led thousands into heroin addiction.

But, Ramin says, opioid painkillers don’t work well for people with back pain…

So What Does Work?

Two things: Exercise and changing the way you think about back pain.

“Understanding that hurt does not mean harm,” Ramin says. “You can continue to live an active life. The most dangerous thing you can do for yourself is take to the couch or take to your bed or take to pain management. But of course that is what most people do.“

Ramin recommends finding a “back whisperer”–someone who understands the musculoskeletal system and is able to help people build strength, balance their gaits and move effectively.

Moving is the key. Our bodies are not built to sit or stand in one place for hours at a time, she says. “The best posture is your next posture.”

So, there you go.  Exercise and changing your thinking.  And, in my case, a well-placed pillow.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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