In an article published in the Huffington Post, Deepak Chopra, MD cites some facts about back pain that I think you should be aware of. Be sure to take a look at the interactive back pain video also presented in Dr. Chopra’s article.

Your Back Pain (And What It’s Trying to Tell You)

At one time or another, the misery of lower back pain is felt by everyone, which is no surprise. Our upright spine is as unique to being human as having an opposable thumb. But where anyone can see that using our hands involves every aspect of life, we don’t say the same about our backs. But it’s just as true. You can read a great deal standing behind someone, reading victory or defeat, success and failure, pride or shame and every degree of self-esteem. More hidden are the stresses that shape the back. On the day that you feel that first twinge of back pain, an entire personal history has already unfolded.

Can we use that history to treat lower back pain?

The factors to consider are as varied as each person is, but the most salient include:

  • Physical stress to the lower back
  • Sedentary jobs
  • Lack of exercise
  • Untended psychological issues
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Sudden changes in physical routine
  • Bad sleep
  • Coping mechanisms, how you deal with stress
  • Aging
  • Old traumas, such as car accidents and sports injuries
  • Unknown predispositions

That’s a lot to consider. As you can see, saying “My back went out” or “I must have hurt my back” falls short of an adequate explanation. Everything on the list needs to be considered as a contributing factor. It’s important to distinguish between acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is intense and lasts from a few days to several weeks. Acute back pain is generally due to sprains or strains and usually gets better in a few weeks. Chronic pain lasts longer than three months. Chronic back pain is more complicated in terms of its causes and its treatment.

We can start with a very general picture. Medicine knows a lot already about this chronic problem. About 1 in 6 Americans suffered from back pain continually for every day of the last month; a quarter of the population reports that they have had back pain in the last three months. Back pain is the No. 2 reason people visit their doctor (No. 1 one is colds and flu).

And back pain is on the rise. The percentage of people getting care for spine problems increased from 10.8 percent of the U.S. population in 1997 to 13.5 percent in 2006. The health care costs of back pain are up, too — way up. Expenditures for opioid medications for spinal problems increased an incredible 660 percent during that same period of time, and health expenditures for spine problems rose from about $19 billion to $35 billion, an increase of 82 percent.

These dramatic increases go hand-in-hand with the rise in back pain surgery. Almost one million spinal surgeries are performed in the U.S. each year. About one-fourth of them are spinal fusions, costing an average of $60,000 each. Most of these surgeries, besides being notoriously unpredictable in their success rate, are unnecessary, and a great many of the unsuccessful ones require re-operation. Surgery often leaves patients in pain, unable to return to work and dependent on opiate medications. We need to realize, on the positive side, that most back pain will respond to conservative treatment that leaves the patient able to return to work and free of the need for opiates.
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