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Ask a Doc: Solutions for back pain
by Clipper
May 30, 2007 | 373 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tell me about these nonsurgical "spinal decompression" machines we see advertised in the newspaper? One cannot open a local paper and not see multiple advertisements for spinal decompression machines. I counted eight separate adds on a recent Sunday. The advertisements often have eye-catching phrases like: "Stop back pain now", "86 percent success rate" and "Avoid the disability of surgery". They have TV commercials as well as mailers with similar messages. One mailer shows a bloody, surgically exposed spine in color with 10 metallic screws in the spine picturing this traditional medical treatment for spinal problems. I have found these marketing techniques amusing but also deceitful.

One cannot stop back pain immediately as claimed without a general anesthetic. Most often the resolution of back pain is gradual and spontaneous even without treatment. In fact the spontaneous resolution of back pain is 90 percent over time. So when claims are made of "86 percent success rate" with these treatments, this must be compared to what nature will do without these proposed treatments. It is difficult to hear and see these claims and think what effect it may have on desperate patients. Many of these treatments are very expensive and not covered by traditional medical insurance.

I see patients in my office on a weekly basis who have failed these treatments and are frustrated by the out-of-pocket expenses incurred. This can be thousands of dollars, many times paid in advance.

These advertisements don't discuss specific diagnoses which all have specific symptoms, treatments and prognoses. All spine problems are "grouped" and the suggestion is that all spinal disorders are "treatable" with one machine or device. All of these devices apply traction forces to the spine. This treatment concept has been available for centuries and has documented benefit for very specific and certain spinal disorders not all.

Low back pain is a universal life experience. As stated above, most back pain resolves spontaneously. Back pain that persists beyond one month needs to be evaluated by a professional. Most back pain is caused by arthritic conditions but other causes (i.e., tumors, infections, ECT) need to be excluded in back pain that persists beyond the usual time frame for natural improvement. Contrary to the referenced advertisements above, the medical treatment for back pain is rarely surgical. The medical treatment is: education about the causes, back exercise, weight reduction if over weight and anti-inflammatory medication in resistant pain. Surgery is reserved for severe back pain present for six months or longer that fails to respond to nonsurgical treatments. This represents a very significant minority of pa-tients in my practice that is exclusively limited to spinal disorders.

One can contact Dr. Capel at Lakeview Neurosurgery at 299-3871

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