Back pain can quickly become front and center in your life if you’ve suddenly twisted, strained, irritated, or overstressed something. If this discomfort has you visiting your doctor or a Beverly Hills back surgeon, you’re not alone. Back issues rank just behind skin and joint conditions as the reason most people seek medical attention. However, spine-related pain may take precedence when it comes to conditions that are overtreated. Essentially, this means there’s a tendency to excessively test, medicate, and even recommend surgery. While intentions may be good, overtreatment can present a whole new set of concerns for people with back pain. Here’s how to avoid overtreatment.
Don’t Get Tested Unless It’s Necessary
There’s a tendency to automatically order tests when patients complain about back pain. In some situations, especially if symptoms are vague or associated with many possible spine-related conditions, it makes sense to run some tests. However, testing for the sake of running tests can be costly. For 90 percent of patients with back pain, discomfort will ease or go away completely in less than two months. Unnecessary testing may also result in:
- More out-of-pocket expenses (not all insurance policies cover the full cost of tests)
- False positive results that lead to other unnecessary tests
- Stress and anxiety from waiting for results or from tests showing an abnormality that doesn’t exist
Don’t Take Too Much Medication
Medications are also overprescribed for many patients with back pain. The concern with overreliance on prescription drugs like opioid pain-relievers, muscle relaxants, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is the risk of unintended and potentially serious side effects.
An Australian study on NSAIDs used by people with back pain echoes this point. Researchers reported that anti-inflammatory medications were only effective for one out of six people studied. Also, subjects taking NSAIDs were 2.5 times more likely to experience gastrointestinal issues, including bleeding and stomach ulcers.
If the source of pain hasn’t been properly diagnosed, such drugs may not be effective for back pain. For instance, discomfort primarily stemming from compression affecting the sciatic nerve can’t be treated effectively with anti-inflammatory drugs.
NSAIDs tend to work better for back pain that’s not nerve-related, but there’s still no guarantee meds will work for everyone since drugs don’t treat the source of back pain. Opioids pose even greater risks, even when patients are carefully monitored.
Don’t Have Surgery Unless You Need To
Many of the common procedures performed today for spine-related conditions are less invasive due to advances in technology. Even so, any type of surgery has risks, which is why there’s a growing concern over the tendency to suggest surgery as an option for relief before all available non-surgical treatments have been explored. The same is true with injections used to ease spine-related pain linked to certain nerves. Potential risks associated with spine surgery and injections placed directly into the affected area include:
- Making other parts of the spine unstable
- Damaging nearby nerves or muscles
- Injuring the injected nerve
- Thrombophlebitis (blood clots in leg veins)
- Anesthesia complications
- Hardware malfunctions
- Pain that returns or worsens after surgery
What Else Can Be Done to Avoid Overtreatment?
The first thing you can do to avoid issues with medication, surgery, and testing is to gather as much information about your type of back pain as possible. Schedule appointments with doctors or spine specialists solely to ask questions. If X-rays or other tests are recommended, ask what the test might show and whether or not it will significantly affect how your symptoms are treated. Additional steps you can take include:
- Exploring approaches to pain management that don’t involve medications (e.g. massage therapy, mindful meditation, hot and cold therapy, electrotherapy like TENS units)
- Considering chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, or other techniques that may help you avoid surgery
- Seeking a second opinion if spine surgery is suggested
The most effective way to avoid overtreating back pain is to do things that may prevent it from becoming an issue in the first place. For instance, opting for exercises that work the core muscle groups can take pressure off the spine by strengthening its supporting muscles. Avoiding sugary and fried foods that contribute to inflammation, getting regular sleep on a supportive mattress, and being mindful of your posture while sitting and standing can also keep your back healthy.
There are many options for treating back pain. Some are minimally invasive surgical procedures such as spinal fusion, while others are non-surgical like spinal cord stimulation. Beverly Hills residents can place their trust in Dr. Hyun Bae and the expert spine surgeons at The Spine Institute to find the most effective treatment for chronic back pain. To schedule an in-person evaluation, call 310-828-7757 today.