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Anne Asher

How Long Does It Take To Recover From a Back Problem?

By September 2, 2008

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Low back pain account for 9% of all US healthcare expenditures.
Illustration:
Anne Asher 2007
Are you one of the numerous back pain sufferers who visits specialist's office after specialist's office in quest of a diagnosis, only to watch the doctor scratch her head? Have you been told there's nothing wrong, even though you have been living in excruciating pain?

Up until recently, research on back pain relief showed that about 90% of it goes away by itself, even if you're not getting medical treatment. But you may feel the statistician passed over you without so much as a glance when recording the numbers. This might not be very far from the truth.

A new study from Australia published in the British Medical Journal challenges the current view that recovery from a back problem is quick. And if you are being compensated for that problem, from an insurance company, for example, well, it's even slower.

One reason this is significant, is that studies such as these form the basis of clinical guidelines, which are research supported suggestions for doctors. So when all the research says 90% of back pain is the kind that goes away on its own, that's the information your doctor may refer to when deciding on treatment or giving you advice.

With this recent study, spine experts are beginning to wake up to the fact that back pain is a signifcant health problem that severely impacts peoples' lives. Professor Chris Maher, lead researcher on the project said, "we clearly need to rethink our approach" to back pain.

According to press materials, back pain accounts for 9% of all US healthcare expenditures. Because the study found that compensated cases of back pain resulted in even slower recovery, it also suggests that the compensation system needs reform.

The study looked at 973 patients with back pain, treated according to clinical guidelines as set forth by the government of Australia. After a month about 50% of the participants had recovered, a far cry from previous estimates of 90%. At the end of a year, 40% still had back pain.

Source:
George Institute (2008, July 10). Low Back Pain Recovery Slow; And Worse For Those On Compensation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/07/080708094216.htm

| Acute Low Back Pain | New Clinical Guidelines for Diagnosing and Treating Back Pain | Back Pain | What is Back Pain? |

Comments
September 10, 2008 at 6:04 pm
(1) Laura says:

Those who con’t have compensation for back/neck injuries (put me in that category) have had to muddle along and put up with their pain and perhaps don’t articulate it as strongly as those receiving compensation have learned to do. Those who receive compensation have to fill out forms and see numerous doctors. They must convince everyone so are verbal and speak loudly about their pain. The rest of us speak as little as possible about it as we know that that differientiates us from the rest of humanity and keeps our friends and spouses distant from us.

I have had headaches/migraines, neck pain and low back pain since age 12 and it has been mild-to-moderate and episodic until 1990 (told to quit work by medical professional to avoid lumbar surgery) when my pain became nonstop and constant; first with my back for a solid 1 1/2 years and then once that cleared up through extensive physical therapy then I had a herniated disc (cervical surgery failed).

I now live with chronic pain on a daily basis and compensation has never ever been a factor and I have never received any type of disability from any job or the government (married).

September 10, 2008 at 11:25 pm
(2) Christine says:

I concur with what Laura wrote about a possible reason for those who are being compensated being treated for a longer duration.

Depending upon which state a patient lives in, workers compensation or other such programs are highly regulated and require a patient to continually justify his/her injury and thus, the medical professionals are better able to communicate with the patient – often times leading to more extensive treatment.

I do not fall into this category (I was hit by an uninsured driver) but I caution those who read this article against coming to the conclusion that those who are being compensated for injury are somehow getting “too much healthcare.” This a moral hazard type argument that those who are against adequate, affordable healthcare for everybody uses to justify that fact that many people are ininsured or underinsured.

Any additional data that helps doctors make better decisions about care is great – so long as we don’t see a cause and effect (having care means getting too much treatment) when there may just be a correlation (those who can pay for care are more likely to get the care they need). Ok, I am off my soapbox now – I just hate to think that there are people out there who blame the injured person after reading a stat like that in the article.

September 11, 2008 at 12:31 am
(3) backandneck says:

Christine,
I am so glad you brought up that point. As the writer for this site, I am obligated to present the research, but I know through experience that injured people need the care they get, and often more.
Anne

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