It’s the most common cause of job absences and disability for Americans younger than 45. It hits most of us at some point, and experts estimate that we spend more than $90 billion annually on its diagnosis and treatment.
As I’ve written before, a bad back is one of the most painful and debilitating health concerns for tens of millions globally. And because so many struggle to cope with everything from a dull throb to chronic excruciating pain — which may lead them to pills or may require other costly, time-consuming treatments, especially multiple surgeries — bum experiences with the back also contribute to other banes such as drug addiction.
But in some quarters at least, experts are getting favorable outcomes with a different course in which patients cope, manage, and rehabilitate their back woes to achieve a “functional restoration,” as the Wall Street Journal describes it. It’s not exactly tough love:
“The idea is to teach patients to manage back pain, even if it isn’t eliminated, and get them back to work, sports, and other daily tasks and activities. Patients learn exercises they can do daily to build strength and endurance. A big component is psychological and behavioral counseling to teach coping skills and help them get over the fear of movement that comes with ‘pain catastrophizing,’ which is the tendency to magnify the threat of pain and feel helpless to do anything about it.”
The Journal, pragmatically, notes that this approach isn’t cheap, costing about $17,000, though that sum often is at least partially covered by insurance. Patients, many of whom haven’t found satisfaction with extensive regimens of diagnoses, drugs, surgeries, and other therapies, don’t walk away with miraculous relief. But says a physician who runs a program: “they make quite dramatic improvements in mood, flexibility, strength and endurance. …” Another MD observes that this approach gives patients a new view about their capacity to control their thinking about pain and to see that they needn’t feel hopeless about it.
As always, patients and their loved ones should consider treatment options like this with skepticism, care, and due diligence. Unfortunately, because back pain often results from complex medical circumstance, there’s rarely a snap answer to alleviating its underlying causes. It’s good to know, however, that at least some medical practitioners are researching alternatives and providing therapeutic options that don’t race us all reflexively to drugs and surgeries.