What Really Gets Rid of Back Pain?

Survey Results: What Are Back Pain Patients Dissatisfied With?

Two Doctors with a model of the spineAn apparently straightforward medical question causes heated debate among doctors—and the answer affects their patients.

"What is the best way to treat back pain?"
Despite countless years of fine research into treating back pain, doctors and medical specialists continue to disagree over which treatments to prescribe.

This lack of consensus often leaves patients confused. Which medical expert should they listen to? Surgeons? Chiropractors? Physical therapists? Massage specialists? Or perhaps they should try acupuncture or steroid injections? The list of treatment options is long, complex, and perplexing.

A new national survey conducted by SpineUniverse helps patients cut through the confusion and ask informed questions about their own treatment. While the research results must never replace the advice of a medical professional, they are a useful tool to help patients ask informed questions about their own pain treatment.

SpineUniverse recently presented patients with a list of treatment options:

  • Acupuncture/Acupressure
  • Chiropractic
  • Exercise (Yoga, Weight Training, Swimming, etc.)
  • Herbal Remedies
  • Injections (e.g., epidural steroid injections)
  • Massage
  • Over-the-counter Pain Medication (e.g., Tylenol)
  • Prescription Pain Medication
  • Physical Therapy
  • Surgery
  • Weight Loss

Using a scale ranging from Very Dissatisfied to Very Satisfied, patients were asked to rate their satisfaction with the outcome of each treatment they tried: Did it relieve their pain?

The results were surprising—and controversial.

Back Pain Treatment Options Results

% of respondents dissatisfied or worse with back pain treatment option

Remarkably, several of the most common and traditional back pain treatments left a majority of patients who tried them dissatisfied—or even very dissatisfied. Over-the-counter pain medications, chiropractic care, and injections were all in the top 5 for high levels of patient dissatisfaction.

In fact, over-the-counter pain medication was the #2 most unhelpful treatment—and that's a surprise. Over-the-counter pain medications are typically one of the first treatments people try, an idea that was supported by the survey results: more people tried this treatment option than any other option, excluding exercise.

When people wake up with pain or when pain flares up throughout the day, they'll turn to the medicine cabinet to find temporary pain relief. They'll grab Advil or Aleve or Tylenol and hope that it'll reduce the pain so that they can get through the day.

However, SpineUniverse's survey results seem to indicate those over-the-counter pain medications aren't really helping—or they aren't helping enough for people with back pain. 71.2% of people who tried them were dissatisfied or worse with the result.

Interestingly, prescription pain medication had the highest patient satisfaction level: 61.1% of people who had tried this treatment option were satisfied or better with the result.

Two of the other treatments with the highest satisfaction ratings are the lowest cost and easiest to implement: exercise and weight loss both satisfied 58% of those respondents who tried these options. Conveniently enough, these two options often go hand-in-hand. Exercise more and increase your total fitness level, and you'll most likely lose weight. Since there's a connection between being overweight and having back pain, starting a healthy exercise habit is a win-win.

And the best news for patients: massage satisfied 60.4% of respondents. Since many cases of back pain are the result of muscle sprain or strain, it makes sense that a massage would help. A good massage—done by a qualified massage therapist—thoroughly relaxes the muscles and increases blood circulation (which will help the muscles heal).

End Result for Patients: What Does This Mean for Your Back Pain Treatment?

No treatment should ever be dismissed, as everyone's pain and condition is different. Some people found relief with every one of these treatment options. Regardless of the numbers, patients shouldn't rule out a treatment option: it just may be the option that works for them.

However, the high percentage of patients dissatisfied with several mainstream treatments, including chiropractic care and injections, raises concern. These treatments undoubtedly benefit many patients, so they shouldn't be dismissed entirely.

Instead, these survey results underscore the importance of why patients should carefully question their medical professional before starting a treatment. Patients deserve to know how likely it is that the treatment will be effective for their condition.

And when all is said and done, it is encouraging to know that massage garners such high patient satisfaction. Perhaps now we all have an excuse for extra visits to the spa.

Updated on: 02/09/16
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Full Results for SpineUniverse Back Pain Treatment Options Survey
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Full Results for SpineUniverse Back Pain Treatment Options Survey

SpineUniverse presents their survey results from early 2008 where website visitors rated non-surgical back pain treatments on a scale from very dissatisfied to very satisfied.
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