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Responses to chronic back pain, part 1: scope of the problem

The problem of chronic back pain is a thread that we frequently follow in this blog.

After all, such pain is one of the most common causes of disability. And, as we discussed in our November 26 post, the causes of this chronic pain are often complicated.

In this two-part post, we will discuss recent research regarding which treatments are most effective in responding to this pain.

Last week, National Public Radio reported that more than 25 percent of adults in the U.S. acknowledge having recently experienced pain in their lower backs. Billions of dollars are spent trying to treat it - often with ineffective or even contradictory results.

Doctors often overprescribe narcotic painkillers that can easily become addictive. Spinal injections are another possibility, but may not work well for many people.

But surgery is not necessarily the answer either. It may take more than merely removing a damaged disc to effectively address chronic back pain.

Even if someone undergoes spinal fusion surgery, that may not fix the problem. National Public Radio recently reported on a Harvard doctor named Jerome Groopman who had this surgery, in which vertebrae are welded together by means of a bone graft.

Neither surgery to remove a disc nor spinal-fusion surgery helped Groopman. And he is not alone; according to some reports, about 20 percent of patients with back pain who undergo surgery end up having more surgery in another attempt to fix the problem.

In part two of this post, we will discuss indications that regular exercise may help to address chronic back pain more than surgery or other invasive treatments.

Source: NPR, "Pain In The Back? Excercise May Help You Learn Not To Feel It," Patti Neighmond and Richard Knowx, Jan. 13, 2014

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