We’ve Got Your Back: Understanding (and Treating) Back Pain
Injury Care & Prevention Oct 28, 2019
We’ve Got Your Back: Understanding (and Treating) Back Pain

Earlier this month, the Orthology team joined the Twin Cities YMCA at their annual ForeverWell event in Minneapolis, The Gathering, which brings together more than 1,000 YMCA members for a day of seminars, socializing and other activities. Twin Cities YMCA creates an incredible impact bringing communities together in healthy living, and we’re thrilled to be a part of their mission.

During the event, Orthology’s Dr. David Elton presented to a packed audience, sharing how Orthology and the YMCA are helping people find effective, long-term solutions to back pain. If you weren’t able to attend The Gathering—or even if you were, and you’d like a recap—we’ve summarized Dr. Elton’s presentation below. It’s never too late to get on the right treatment track for back pain.

Back pain is common, but finding the right care, right away, isn’t. In 2015, more than half a billion people worldwide suffered from back pain lasting more than three months. It’s the number one area of pain we treat at Orthology. And, research tells us that rates of back pain have been on the rise over the past 25 years, and will likely continue to increase as global health improves and the population ages.

The Problem with Current Care

Considering the prevalence of back pain, you might imagine people would have an easy time navigating their care successfully. But back pain is associated with about almost half of low-value health care, meaning care that provides little or no benefit to patients while also incurring unnecessary costs and wasting healthcare resources.

Injections and imaging for back pain are responsible for 46% of all low-value care, and spinal imaging specifically often leads to additional, more invasive, treatments. Patients who receive an MRI during the first month of back pain are eight times more likely to have surgery, and see a five-fold increase in medical expenses—without observed benefits.

In addition, 52% of prescribed opioids are for lower back pain. But there’s little evidence of efficacy in reducing pain for chronic back pain sufferers beyond the short term, and neither do opioids seem to improve function or reduce the time it takes for employees to get back to work.

Finally, surgery recovery rates for back pain are highly variable. In some studies, surgical treatment for patients with spinal stenosis appeared moderately effective in the short-term, but decreased over time, leaving as much as 30% of patients in severe pain and 17% of patients having undergone additional surgery.

A New Plan of Care

Fortunately, the American College of Physicians has published clinical guidelines to help guide you through a successful, long-term recovery from back pain. In layman’s terms, a step-by-step plan should follow the outline below:

  1. Remain active. Although uncomfortable, most back pain tends to resolve on its own. Staying active can help shorten the recovery timeline and keep healthy habits intact when it comes to preventing pain down the road.
  2. If your pain isn’t improving or feels severe enough to make staying active difficult, see a Chiropractor or Physical Therapist. Guidelines recommend non-invasive treatments first, such as spinal manipulation, massage, acupuncture or stretching and exercise specifically targeting your pain.
  3. At any point, if you experience a “red flag” symptom, it’s time to go directly to a specialist. Red flags include severe pain, numbness or tingling into the legs, incontinence, high fever or a medical history of cancer. These red flags are uncommon, and typically only affect between 5% and 10% of people.

Orthology, in partnership with 19 Twin Cities YMCA locations, is making it easier to access the care recommended by current guidelines. Now you can find extra support for orthopedic care from Orthology’s clinical team in the same space where you stay active.

Your Orthology chiropractor or physical therapist can also help you understand if your back pain might be something a specialist should see right away. And, if it is, we’re with you every step of the way, from getting an appointment for you quickly to guiding you through recovery.

Learn more about how Orthology and the YMCA are working together, and book your first—or next—appointment at a YMCA near you.