Jul 31, 2013

    Back pain? Give it some time

    DESPITE guidelines to treat back pain conservatively, the proportion of people prescribed powerful painkillers or referred for operation and special care has increased in recent years, according to a new study.

    Dr Steven Cohen, an anaesthesiologist and critical-care doctor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who did not participate in the research, noted that operations, injections and scans for back pain "have all gone up pretty dramatically".

    The American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society recommend that people with lower-back pain consider treatment with Tylenol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, as well as heating pads and exercise.

    The groups said doctors should order CT and other types of scans only when they suspect nerve damage. Opioids - narcotic pain medication - are recommended only for patients with "severe, disabling pain" that does not get better with over-the-counter medicines.

    Dr Cohen said strong evidence supports treating the pain with exercise, including stretching and aerobic activity.

    Dr Bruce Landon, from the Harvard Medical School in Boston, who led the study, said the key thing for patients to do is to give it time.

    He said: "Patients expect and want (the pain) to get better in seconds and that's not always going to happen. But if you give it time, work on it, do stretching and physical-therapy exercises, that's what's going to make it better in the long run."