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Back Pain, Costs of Treatment Up Sharply in US


Back pain is one of the most common problems plaguing aging societies. And Americans are now spending more money than ever before to treat it. But a new study says that some of the treatments do not seem to do much good. VOA's Carol Pearson has the story.

Eighty percent of Americans experience back pain at some time in their lives.

Bruce Wilson has a ruptured disk in his back and degenerative joint disease. He has had five surgeries and spent nearly $270,000 treating his persistent pain. He explains, "I just can't sit, stand or walk for any kind of extended period of time."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that back pain is a leading cause of disability and the second-leading cause of missed work in the United States.

Back pain is a symptom of arthritis or problems with nerves or disks or muscles. Older people are more likely to suffer from these problems than the young.

Americans are now spending more money than ever before on drugs and surgeries to treat back pain.

But how much good does it do?

"We may be over-prescribing, over-utilizing and over-treating people with back problems," says research scientist Brook Martin and others at the University of Washington who analyzed the data on back pain for an eight-year period from 1997 through 2005.

They found costs for treating spine problems had increased roughly 65 percent over the period, yet people with spine problems reported more disability and a lower quality of life in 2005 than they had in 1997.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Sohail Mirza says treatment needs to be more carefully thought out. "We need to look more carefully at newer technologies and newer procedures that cost more and see if they really make a meaningful difference for patients," he said.

The complete study can be found in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Video courtesy of the Journal of the American Medical Association

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