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The Most Commonly-Prescribed Back Pain Treatment Is Wrong

The Most Commonly-Prescribed Back Pain Treatment Is Wrong

It might be putting your health at risk


Back pain is one of the most common reasons why guys head to their doctor. But the treatment they receive might be at odds with what experts recommend, according to a new NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll.

In the survey of about 3,000 Americans, just over half reported experiencing back pain in the past 12 months—and of these pained people, 58 percent sought some kind of medical treatment.

But those who visited their doctor for care might be receiving the wrong kind: Prescription painkillers were the most common treatment the participants reported, with 40 percent saying they received a recommendation for them. That includes opioids, pain relieving drugs that can spark serious addiction issues.

The reliance on prescription painkillers is a problem, since revised guidelines on back pain just published by the American College of Physicians in April advise against them as first-line treatment.

In fact, patients with acute or subacute back pain should try non-medicinal treatment first, like heat treatment, massage, acupuncture, or spinal manipulation. In those with chronic low back pain, non-medicinal treatments are also recommended first, including exercise or rehab. (Here are 7 ways to knock out back pain without pill.)

If the non-pharmacological treatments don’t work, doctors can try over-the-counter drugs nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They should only consider opioids in patients who haven’t been helped by any of the other treatments, and only if the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

Along with the serious risk of addiction, opiate use also can cause nausea, dizziness, constipation, vomiting, and other side effects.

The good news is, even if you do experience back pain, chances are good you won’t have to live with it forever: Forty-five of the participants who experienced back pain said it got better—and only five percent said it grew worse.

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