Health Update: Low Back Pain – What Do Consumers Say Works Best?

We know that many people, in fact about 80 percent, hurt their back at some point in life.  In a recent survey by Consumer Reports (CR) (see the May 2009 issue), over 14,000 subscribers had low back pain (LBP) but no surgery to treat it in 2008.  More than half reported severe daily activity limitations for at least one week and 88 percent reported their LBP recurred throughout the year.

Many indicated their sleep, sex life, and weight management all suffered as a result of LBP. What is important about these findings is that once you have LBP, you’re probably going to have repeat episodes.  It’s the chronic, recurrent nature of LBP that makes it one of the most costly conditions to the injured employee, the employers, fellow workers, insurance companies, and the health care system in general.  Of interest, most of the 14,000 LBP sufferers indicated they had tried 5 or 6 different treatment approaches.  When rating the degree of helpfulness of each type of care and, their overall satisfaction with the various health-care professionals, the hands-on therapies were the top rated, with chiropractic leading the list at 59 percent.  Physical therapists (PT) were next at 55 percent though later in the article a “very helpful” rating for PT was reported at 46 percent vs. massage therapy at 48 percent.  Acupuncture was listed at third with 53 percent, specialty physicians at 44 percent and primary care physicians were rated the lowest at 34 percent.  Medications by prescription “helped a lot” in 44 percent and about 22 percent were helped by over the counter medication.  It is ironic that other reports have indicated that only about 15 percent of people with LBP go to chiropractors when research, consumer satisfaction as indicated here, and all of the international guidelines have recommended that chiropractic be considered as one of the first approaches in the management of non-surgical LBP.  What is the hesitation?

Other interesting points in the article include that most of the LBP sufferers that elected not to seek treatment (about 35 percent) did so because of cost concerns or the belief that professional care would not help. Both research and the majority of the 14,000 who tried chiropractic said it helped and a LBP case was reviewed emphasizing this point. The case example emphasized the value of periodic chiropractic treatment for a worker in a heavy physically demanding job and the benefits he received from a treatment every few weeks, indicating this approach, “…is able to keep his back pain to a minimum.”  Another important point was that 44 percent of the 14,000 consumers reported exercise was helpful, and this represented the top placed self-help measure.  Moreover, 58 percent indicated they wished they had included more exercises to strengthen their back in the past year.  Chiropractic management of back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions includes exercise training during the care rendered for LBP.

The article concludes with caution about back surgery, and references a separate CR survey completed in 2006.  They reported 60 percent satisfaction in about 1000 LBP consumers that had surgery in the prior 5 years compared to hip or knee replacement satisfaction at 82 percent. Additionally, more than 50 percent reported at least one problem during recovery, 16% had no improvement at all, while 8 percent were worse. The recommendation of obtaining at least 2 opinions was suggested prior to under going surgery, preferably one from a non-surgeon.

Therefore, if you, a loved one, or a friend have not yet utilized chiropractic for LBP management, the time is now as all the evidence points to chiropractic as yielding the highest level of satisfaction and activity restoration for LBP sufferers.  This recommendation may be one of the most important acts of kindness that one can give to another person.

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