Pain in the neck and back may go away on it's own without expensive treatments.
According to a 2008 study from the University of Washington, expenses related to back and neck pain have increased to more than $80 billion a year, but functional disability and work limitations do not seem to be improving. In other words, patients are spending money on prescription pain medications, surgery and MRIs and other imaging studies on a problem that, in most cases does not require a doctor's care. Most patients would do just as well by waiting, exercising or taking over-the-counter pain medications before visiting the doctor.
What about enlisting a chiropractor? Does manipulating the spine work for pain?
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent: Many people visit chiropractors to avoid having to take medication. Most experts will tell you to go see a chiropractor to get some short-term relief from your pain, and I stress short term. There is no evidence that this works over the long term. One big study found that going to a chiropractor is about as effective as going to your primary care doctor or taking a prescription anti-inflammatory medication. So it's going to give you some relief, but it's not a long-term solution. Lifestyle changes such as exercise, maybe yoga, losing weight and getting pressure off the low back are great solutions over the long term.
So we're spending too much on back problems that will probably pass most of the time but obviously there are times people should see their doctors, right?
Right. Most people, about 80 to 85 percent, will have their back pain go away in two to three weeks. They shouldn't worry. Folks with chronic pain lasting longer than two to three weeks should see a doctor.
Older patients, in their 60s or 70s, should see a doctor. For them, back pain may be a sign of a more serious problem. In younger patients, back pain itself is not a big problem, but when it's accompanied by numbness for more than a couple of weeks, there could be something more serious going on. Again, most of the time back problems will improve in a few days or weeks, so you may want to wait it out a little while before rushing to get that procedure or that MRI.
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