My Back Hurts…Now What?

My Back Hurts…Now What?

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With an incidence rate of 80% (80% of people will get back pain at some point in their life) and $80 BILLION spent annually (that is slightly less than the amount we spend on foreign aid each year) in the treatment of low back pain, it is a HUGE issue. Those expenses include surgery, medication, doctor visits, X-rays, MRIs, physical therapy visits, etc. Not to mention it can be very debilitating and frustrating for individuals as well.

So what do you do when your back hurts?

Well first, unless you were involved in an accident or trauma, the ER is probably not the right place for you. Second, stay active, most people will assume that if their back hurts, they shouldn’t move. That is quite the opposite. Immobility can lead to muscle atrophy and weakening of your back muscles and increase pain levels and disability in the long-run. A recent study1 suggests that continuing your normal daily activity and staying active within your tolerance leads to more rapid improvements in low back pain. The fact is that most back pain will spontaneously go away with time but up to 40% can linger and become chronic, and often the longer you wait to get treated the more this chance of chronicity increases.

So should you contact your primary care doctor? Yes, you can and that may not be a bad option, however, there are more efficient options. Your first stop for non-traumatic back pain should be PT. Another recent article2 suggests that early physical therapy was associated with decreased rate of advanced imaging (MRI, CT), additional physician visits, surgery, injections and opiod medications (THIS IS HUGE!). Another study3 published by a group of physicians from the University of Washington found that “there was a lower risk of subsequent medical service usage among patients who received PT early after an episode of acute low back pain relative to those who received PT at later times.” So what does this mean? Earlier PT care is essential in the management of low back pain and can reduce costs to the healthcare system (and the patient).

By now the picture should be pretty clear….PT and EARLY PT plays a big role in the recovery of low back pain, keeps you out of the ER, away from injections and narcotic pain medicine use and it keeps money in your pocket. Remember, don’t wait, don’t panic and stay active!


To wrap it up….



1)    If your back hurts see (or at least call for a FREE  consultation) a Physical Therapist RIGHT AWAY, the longer your wait the longer it may take to recover

2)    If you decide to see your doctor first, request Physical Therapy (you may need to be your own advocate), stats show those who get to PT quicker do better

3)    Be proactive about your health care and don’t sit and wait around

4)    STAY ACTIVE – studies have shown that bed rest and meds are not the solution, exercise/activity is medicine!

5)    Initial PT can lower overall costs (more money in your pocket), improve your results and KEEPS YOU ACTIVE


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My Back Hurts…Now What?


Citation and links to articles:


1) Malmivaara, A., Hakkinen, U., Aro, T., Heinrichs, M.L., Koskenniemi, L., Kuosma, E., Lappi, S., Hernberg, S. The Treatment of Acute Low Back Pain – Bed Rest, Exercises, or Ordinary Activity? The New England Journal of Medicine; 332(6): 351-355.

Link to abstract:


2) Fritz, J.M., Childs, J.D., Wainner, R.S., Flynn, T.W. Primary Care Referral of Patients With Low Back Pain to Physical Therapy. Spine (2012); 37(25): 2114-2121.

Link to abstract:


3) Gellhorn, A.C., Chan, L., Martin, B. Management Patterns in Acute Low Back Pain. Spine (2012); 37(9): 775-782.

Link to abstract:


Greg Bailen

Greg Bailen

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