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Surgery Not Necessarily Best Way to Treat Back Pain

Surgery Not Necessarily Best Way to Treat Back Pain

Posted - May 12, 2004 at 3:04 p.m.



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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingEight out of ten Americans will experience debilitating back pain at one point in their lives. While invasive surgery emerges as the treatment of choice, some people urge a far simpler approach.

For Kayva Darian, her first experience with lower back pain was unforgettable. "That's what it feels like (slaps hands together). You've been bent over and it's sore right in the half point.”

Lower back problems are a painful sign of the times. Eight out of ten Americans will experience them.

Dr. Robert Minkowsky: "We are leading more sedentary lifestyles. We are doing a lot of sitting, lots of commuting, not a lot of exercising.”

Millions of Americans with back pain are actively seeking relief. And their treatment of choice is increasingly the most invasive and costly option -- a complex surgery called spinal fusion. However, outcomes are mixed. Not only that, Dr. Robert Minkowsky says, “The reality in my experience is that most patients don’t really need surgery.”

Dr. Robert Minkowsky specializes in spine rehabilitation. He says while surgery can be helpful for those with well-defined problems, the vast majority benefit from a more conservative, less invasive approach.

In fact, doctors now know back pain results from an accumulation of factors that patients may not even be aware of until it's too late and the pain strikes.

Kayva Darian: “The stage was set before that final event actually occurred.”

On the stage is too much weight, poor posture in the workplace, weak abdominal or buttock muscles, tightness in the legs, even being stressed or angry.

Many in the health profession are shifting their attention and looking for simpler, more holistic approaches.

Susan Eaton, Physical Therapist: “We're not just treating the anatomy, the low back anatomy, we're treating the whole person.”

Physical therapist Susan Eaton at St. Francis Hospital says while many patients may initially demand a quick fix, her job is to open their eyes to a different approach - a prescription that may guarantee long term benefit.

Susan Eaton: “We need to take into account their lifestyle stressors, their emotional stressors, their occupational stressors.”

About half the time, back pain improves within two weeks. For some the pain may never completely go away, but patients can learn to prevent further injury.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds the vast majority of back pain cases could not be linked to an obvious anatomical problem or injury. By the way, Americans spend twenty-six billion dollars a year on trying to relieve the pain.

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