Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
18 Feb

A Pain in the Neck – and Back!

With the rise of obesity and the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles in the U.S., it’s little surprise that back problems are common in this country. And, sure enough, health expenditures for these problems are going through the roof. According to a newly published research analysis, expenditures for neck and back treatments have risen a whopping 65% since 1997! But here’s the kicker: with all the extra money insurance companies and individuals are paying for back related treatments (surgeries, pain meds, etc.) patients are actually getting less relief. The research comes out of the University of Washington at Seattle and is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Martin and colleagues analyzed data from 1997 to 2005 from a nationally representative survey of patient health expenditures and health status. They found that in 1997 people with spine problems on average spent $4,695 a year, adjusted for inflation, compared with the average $2,731 spent for people without back problems. The average health cost for spine patients in 2005 rose to $6,096, compared with $3,516 for people without those problems. …”What we’re seeing is that although costs have gone up, outcomes have not changed, which is really discouraging,” said Dr. Orly Avitzur, a neurologist from Tarrytown, N.Y., and an advisor to Consumer Reports, which recently named back surgery on its top-10 list of “Medical Gotchas.”

via LA Times

We can’t resist saying that, while a 65% increase in overall expenditures seems more than excessive, the 171% increase in pharmaceutical expenditures for neck and back treatments struck us as outright extreme. (All right, that wasn’t the word, but we’re trying to be polite.) But again, it’s not much of a surprise, is it?

The study found that the annual bill for spinal treatments in this country totals $85.9 billion a year. The cost for cancer treatment: $89 billion.

This is the kind of news we shake our fists at. Of course, there are numerous legitimate, non-lifestyle reasons people require spinal care (car accidents, injuries, pregnancy and childbirth related strains). For those with lifestyle related back issues, spinal treatment can allow them enhanced opportunity to pursue fitness goals, etc. Though we’re not Rodney Yee, we recognize that spinal health is essential for overall wellness. But we would also argue the reverse: overall physical condition is important for spinal health.

When treatments support a person’s ability to lead a healthy life, they can make a truly positive difference. As this analysis shows, our current treatment situation in this country isn’t doing the job. Treatments, pharmaceutical or not, shouldn’t be stand-ins for healthy choices. Ideally, treatment should complement our own efforts and act as a temporary “support” to get us back on track. We don’t gain much from being weakened, or worse yet, infirm. We don’t gain much from being poorer after the bills come due. And we certainly don’t gain anything from, at the end of the day, still being in pain. The question is, then, who does gain?

Comments? Stories? Do share.

Further Reading:

Natural Alternatives to OTC Painkillers

The Single Best Stretch

FitSugar: Fetal Position Back Stretch

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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I have found chiropractors to be scam artists in my personal experience. I went through years of regular visits to different chiropractors. The only thing I think they were good at was getting me to keep coming back. Maybe that and taking advantage of the placebo effect…

    Frank wrote on February 18th, 2008
  2. Laura wrote on February 18th, 2008
  3. I wonder when weightlifting/weight-bearing exercise will finally be accepted as great preventative care.

    Nic wrote on February 18th, 2008
  4. I’d like to explain my understanding of back pain (and most chronic pain in general), because I’ve had it for most of my life and recently got rid of it.

    It’s becoming increasingly common, and as MDA mentioned, conventional treatments are not very effective. The reason is that it’s not a physical problem, but a psychological one.

    It’s also easily cured in most people. Dr. John Sarno, professor of clinical rehabilitation medicine at NY University, has pioneered this work. He has written a book called “Healing Back Pain” that has cured many people, including myself. Just read the reviews on If you have back pain, this will be the best $10 you’ve ever spent.

    This applies to most cases of back pain, plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, sciatica, neck pain and any other kind of mysterious chronic pain. It also explains why these are so refractory to conventional treatments.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for strengthening the back through weights, yoga, weight loss etc, but these things don’t address the root cause of the problem. Take my word for it, I’ve tried it all.

    Sasquatch wrote on February 18th, 2008
  5. Sasquatch:
    Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve read about the book and wanted to get it. I’ve been through occupational therapy, chiropractic treatments and a special back strength training program supervised by physical therapists and an M.D. Things got better, but I still deal with pain on a daily basis. I’m intrigued by this approach, and it’s good to hear a real person’s experience with it. I’ll have to check out the reviews you mentioned.

    Jen wrote on February 18th, 2008
  6. I have to second Sarno’s work. The ideas in his books fixed some back pain I used to have, and together with proper exercise keep me pain free to this day. Buying either “Healing Back Pain” or the book that followed it is well worth the money.

    Pinky wrote on February 19th, 2008
  7. I am a 38 year old male and I have been an enthusiastic disciple of the primal lifestyle for the past 2 years. The improvement in my life has been remarkable. Unfortunately I have been afflicted with intermittent bouts of back pain and sciatica since my mid 20s. despite my healthy lifestyle and 3 years of pain free existence, the sciatica re emerged with particular severity earlier this year. After 4 months of multiple therapies, I was again staring at the proposition of surgery. Thankfully, I gained enough clarity one evening about 3 weeks ago to plug ‘sciatica’ into the Marks Daily Apple search engine and read the blog post recommending Dr John Sarno’s book ‘Healing Back Pain’.
    This book has been more than a revelation to me. I immediately read it and went on to learn all I could about TMS. In less than 2 weeks I am completely symptom free. COMPLETELY! I have gone from despair to rebirth. I cannot understate the importance of Dr Sarno’s work and I implore anyone with chronic pain to do yourself a favor and read it. It will change your life… Here’s to a pain free primal existence…

    phil wrote on September 5th, 2012

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