Chronic Back Pain in America 2015:
Survey Results

Chronic Mid Back Pain: Muscle Spasms Second Common Symptom after Thoracic Pain

You may find the top two reported causes of mid back pain surprising

Mid back pain, that is pain felt in and around the thoracic spine, was self-reported by 86% (n=166 of 194) people who completed the Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 survey sponsored by Similar to other survey responders, these patients indicated they have been living with chronic mid pack pain for at least 3 months.
Woman at work holding her mid backThese patients indicated they have been living with chronic mid pack pain for at least 3 months.Pain was the foremost symptom of a thoracic spine condition among the 194 people who participated in this section of the survey. However, like other spinal disorders, we see their pain was accompanied by many different symptoms as summarized in Table 1, below.

table 1, symptoms of back and neck painTable 2 (below) summarizes where patients felt the effects of chronic mid back pain (eg, upper back).

Table lists where thoracic mid back pain was felt by patients surveyed in Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 surveyTable 3 (below) summarizes the types of activities that patients indicated were limited symptoms related to their mid back pain. Notice that sleeping led the list.

Activites limited by thoracic mid back pain, as reported in the Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 surveyTable 4 (below) summarizes the diagnoses survey takers self-reported. Keep in mind that mid back pain can be diagnosed as having more than one cause. There were 194 responders to this question.

table 4, diagnosesTable 5 (below) indicates the types of spine specialists who diagnosed the cause(s) of chronic pain affecting the thoracic (mid back) pain experienced by the patients who participated in the Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 survey. There were 194 responders to this question; 4% (n=8) indicated they had not seen a doctor.

Spine specialists who diagnosed cause of mid back pain, results from Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 surveyNonoperative Treatments
Table 6 (below) reflects the feedback from 186 participants. Here SpineUniverse reports on different nonsurgical treatments patients used/tried to help reduce their mid back pain, and therapies that were found to be ineffective.

table 5, nonoperative back and neck pain treatmentsWho prescribed pain medications?
The majority of physicians who prescribed pain medications were pain management specialists (45%, n=62) and primary care physicians (36%, n=49). Orthopaedic surgeons (4%, n=6), neurosurgeons (4%, n=6), and physiatrists (6%, n=8) were other physician categories that prescribed pain drugs.

Surgeon Recommended Surgery to Treat Mid Back Pain
Compared to patients who received a recommendation for neck or low back/sacral surgery, the number of thoracic patients was much lower. Here, 11% (n=20 of a total of 186) reported, “ever having mid back surgery,” while 14% (n=26) indicated their doctor recommended surgery to treat chronic mid back pain. About 15% (n=4 of 26) indicated they underwent another thoracic surgery to revise a previous procedure.

Types of spine specialists who recommended thoracic surgery, included:

  • Neurosurgeon: 42%, n=11
  • Orthopaedic spine surgeon: 23%, n=6
  • Orthopaedic surgeon: 19%, n=5
  • Pain management specialist: 12%, n=3
  • Other: 4%, n=1

Table 7 (below) recaps the surgical procedures surgeons recommended. Keep in mind that a spine surgery may include more than one procedure and/or approach. There were 26 patients who responded to this question.

Surgery recommended to treat mid back pain, results Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 survey*A decompression procedure may include discectomy, microdiscectomy, corpectomy, foramintomy, laminectomy, laminoplasty, and/or laminoforaminotomy.

Second Opinions
Again, of the 26 patients, 39% (n=10) sought a second opinion, while 31% (n=8) did not because they trust their doctor’s recommendation. Another 31% (n=8) did not seek a second opinion for “other” reasons. Table 8 (below) details the type of spine specialist patients consulted with for a second opinion.

Second opinion spine specialists consulted, results of Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 surveyWhich surgeon performed mid back surgery?
Revisiting the 10 survey respondents who sought a second opinion, who did they choose to perform their thoracic surgery? Almost 57% (n=15) decided against having surgery, while 36% (n=9) went with the first surgeon, and 7% (n=2) selected the second opinion surgeon.

Updated on: 01/25/18
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