Back pain may be better treated with exercise instead of surgery

Most back surgeries are unnecessary.

Despite that, they’re being performed with increasing frequency. A recent Associated Press report details the issue, and illustrates why this is a growing concern.

Almost $90 billion is spent on back pain annually, when, in reality, time is often the most effective treatment. In fact, studies show that 90 percent of back pain heal without further intervention.

Both doctors and patients have to bear some responsibility. Physicians, incentivized by a fee for service payment system, sometimes are financially biased towards a procedural cure. Patients, as well, have to adjust their expectations to have “something done.”

In many cases, surgery is not the definitive cure. The relief is only temporary, with the potential of further operations down the line.

Aggressive exercise programs — often not as aggressively publicized by doctors — can be a better fit for some patients. Consider this story cited in the piece:

After a volleyball injury, scans showed [the patient] had degeneration in seven disks but one bulged in a way that doctors thought explained the pain radiating down both legs. They cut away part of that spot; it didn’t help. Neither did multiple pain-blocking options.

This so-called “tailored rehab” is intensive, and requires a commitment on the patient’s part.

If we can better educate the public on the effectiveness of conservative measures, perhaps we can make a dent in the number of unnecessary procedures that many back pain patients are fruitlessly undergoing.