University of Utah Researchers Investigate Best Path For Treating Back Pain

If you are one of the 80 percent of people who have experienced back pain at some point in your life, you know how debilitating the experience can be. According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), back pain is one of the costliest conditions, both in terms of treatment expense and in terms of productivity.

Health researchers at the University of Utah recently announced the details of a study they’d conducted with the goal of finding the most effective and least costly way to treat back pain. The group determined that where they had previously grouped back pain patients into a single group that received a relatively uniform type of care, they would instead pursue a different approach that closely mirrors the approach used at our lumbar spine specialty practice in New Jersey.

They determined that the best first step involves education on pain management and the use of various exercises provided by physical therapists to determine whether this conservative approach effectively eliminates the patient’s pain.  According to their report, doing so not only eliminates the need for unnecessarily invasive treatment that involves both cost and long wait times for patients, but is often all that is needed to provide patients with relief.

The report called this type of approach “early, effective strategies that help patients take control of their back pain, can get them out of the health care system and back to life sooner and at lower cost.”

The researchers evaluated what they termed a “high value pathway” for dealing with lower back pain, allowing patients to choose this conservative approach first, or to pursue specialized, more invasive treatments. If the patients became dissatisfied with the impact of the conservative approach, they were switched to a more aggressive approach.

What they found was that when patients agreed to try physical therapy first, there was a 54% drop in the use of x-rays, a 66% drop in the use of MRI studies, a 70% drop in surgery and a 71% drop in the use of injections when compared to those who chose the more aggressive initial approach. For patients, this option of using less expensive, less invasive treatment approaches provided highly positive results.

Other conservative treatment therapies that were used included cognitive behavioral therapy. The goal was self-management of pain that both minimized the use of more invasive procedures and reduced expense.

While the Utah researchers will continue their studies, and have received a $9.5 million grant to allow them to do so, our lumbar spine specialty practice in New Jersey has long been following this path, looking to employ conservative approaches to our patients’ back pain before moving on to more aggressive therapies.

If you are dealing with back pain and would like to speak to one of our specialists about how a conservative approach may be helpful to you, contact us today to set up a time to come in for a consultation.

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