Back pain has the potential to rule your life. It requires constant attention, care, and has the ability to crush your plans at a moment’s notice. It can also dig deep into your pockets.
When it comes to relief, people want it fast. And people will put their faith and money into anything that promises they’ll be back on their feet—whether it’s an opioid medication like “Oxycontin,” or a common back surgery.
Unfortunately, these methods don’t have strong success rates. And they can be very risky. The best solution to the problem of back pain may be something that costs nothing at all.
Treating Back Pain Is Expensive and Risky
The fact is, treating back pain is expensive. It’s a $100-billion-per-year industry in America. And while roughly 80% of Americans will experience at least one episode of lower back pain during their lives, there are millions stuck in the grip of chronic pain.
An estimated $40 billion is spent every year on a procedure called “spinal fusion,” and the surgery runs about $80,000. But, guess what? Even if you meet the requirements for the surgery, it’s reportedly only “successful” about 35% of the time. And even after that, most patients are back on painkillers around two years later.
Painkillers can be very dangerous, while never actually addressing the root of the problem. They offer “Band-Aid” solutions that tend to lead not only to dependency, but also to increased intake as pain worsens.
And the confusion surrounding back pain doesn’t stop there. Reports indicate that even the supposed accurate diagnoses of back pain are up for debate. Spine surgeons told the author of Crooked, a new book about the back pain industry, that in 80% to 85% of cases, they can’t accurately identify the source of pain.
Chiropractors are popular, but the research doesn’t seem to be there to support their work, either. People often report feeling great following a session, but the results seem to be short-lived. And there isn’t a lot of data on the long-term results.
But, if there is one thing that’s proven to work, it’s getting up and moving around.
Exercise Can Help Relieve Your Back Pain
Being sedentary is a major contributor to back pain, and encourages the tightening of back muscles and dryness in your joints. Movement leads to lubrication in the joints and relaxation of muscles, resulting in less pain. When you’re sitting all day, you’re simply not taking care of your back.
If you’re experiencing back pain, try starting a light exercise program that just includes more daily movement. If you’re spending virtually all day on the sofa in pain, try doing some slow walks around your house or throughout the neighborhood. Starting at 10 minutes per walk is a good goal to shoot for; but remember, it will hurt, so go at a pace that’s relatively comfortable for you. You can increase the duration each week and then look at ways to include more activity into your day. Resistance exercise with light dumbbells or bands is helpful, but it’s best you speak with doctor or physical therapist first to determine your capabilities and limitations and to get formal instruction on exercise technique.
Again, it’s important to remember that in the beginning, increased activity will hurt. (But if the pain seems extreme, check with your doctor or physiotherapist.) The pain caused by exercise, however, is typically brief; it’s just your body adjusting to a new stimulus. Being out of shape will take its toll. But as you start spending more time upright and moving, your body will respond. And the best part: You may not have to buy anything more than a pair of sneakers.
Treating Back Pain Doesn’t Have to Cost You Anything!
Now, I don’t mean to say that painkillers or back surgeries are a total waste of money. If you’ve been injured or had an acute traumatic experience, surgeries and painkillers may be required for recovery and treatment.
That said, many surgeries and prescriptions are not necessary. If you like, I recommend talking to a physiologist or doctorate-level physical therapist. They can help design a program that would be most beneficial for you. But in the meantime, just spend some more time on your feet moving around. It will hurt, but it might offer the best chance of long-term benefit.
“When is back surgery the right choice?” Harvard Health Publications, June 2014; http://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/when-is-back-surgery-the-right-choice, last accessed July 11, 2017.
Bichell, R., “Forget The Gizmos: Exercise Works Best For Lower-Back Pain,” NPR, January 11, 2016; http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/11/462366361/forget-the-gizmos-exercise-works-best-for-lower-back-pain, last accessed July 11, 2017.