Study: ‘Concerning’ trend in treatment of back pain

WASHINGTON – A new study is exposing a trend in treating back pain that has some doctors concerned.

More patients are popping strong prescription pain killers rather than opting for more conservative treatments, such as stretching, exercise or using heating pads and Tylenol, the study found.

Those conservative treatments are among those recommended by the American Pain Society for the eight in 10 Americans suffering from lower back pain, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“This is kind of concerning,” Dr. Steven Cohen of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore tells Reuters Health. He didn’t participate in this study’s research.

Cohen says surgery, injections and scans for back pain “have all gone up pretty dramatically.”

The study, out of Harvard Medical School, tracked more than 24,000 outpatient visits for back and neck pain between 1999 and 2010.

During that time, the number of patients prescribed Tylenol or anti-inflammatory medicine dropped by 12 percent. Whereas, at the same time, the patients given narcotics rose by 10 percent.

“Physicians want to offer patients treatments that are going to work sooner and patients are demanding them and sometimes it’s just easier to order the MRI or order the referral,” the study’s author Dr. Bruce Landon told Reuters Health.

“They often lead to things that are unnecessary and expensive and maybe not better in the long run and maybe even worse,” Landon says.

He suggests patients give conservative treatments, such as exercise, time to take effect.

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