My Doctor Said It Would Go Away

Doctor - Medical History

[originally published in KCN, November 1998]

It is not uncommon for low back pain sufferers to be told by their medical doctors not to worry, the pain will go away on its own.  Unfortunately, words like these bear little comfort to someone down for the count with lumbago.  Like it or not, it’s a common “truth” in the medical arena.  An article published in the medical journal Spine, just over ten years ago, stated, “80-90% of attacks of low back pain recover in about six weeks, irrespective of administration or type of treatment.”  More recently,  back pain guidelines published out of Australia touted similar verbiage:  back pain patients should be “given the assurance that they will recover naturally.”  In a way, I guess this line of thinking sort of fits with our human nature and is somewhat comforting.  It’s much easier to ignore the gigantic gray elephant sitting in your living room, than to face the fact that something might actually be wrong.  “Maybe it will just ‘go away.’”

bmjWell, a new study published in the British Medical Journal has stirred the pot, so to speak, and has shed some interesting light on this medical tenet.  The researchers followed 463 adult low back pain patients for 12 months — starting with their first visit to the general medical practitioner.   What they found was quite interesting.   When analyzing the data in regards to how often patients were consulting their doctor for their lower back pain:  a whopping 59% only consulted with their doctor once, 32% continued to consult up to the first three months, and only 8% were consulting past three months.  At first glance, it might appear that the majority of the patients recovered with minimal intervention.  And this, as the authors explain, is the flaw in our current thinking.  The real story unfolded after conducting follow-up  telephone interviews with the patients.  After 12 months from their initial doctor consultation, only 25% of the patients surveyed were fully recovered, while another 25% still suffered either pain or a disability, and 50% suffered both pain and a disability — a far cry from doing nothing and healing naturally in six weeks.

The authors point out that the original study showing the “90% recovery results” was based on patient consultation records, not follow-up interviews.  Ironically, in their study, the data collected for consultation after three months, showed a 90% dropout rate.  The follow-up interviews simply showed that most patients stopped consulting their medical doctors about low back pain, even though they were still suffering from pain and disability.

These results speak what the chiropractic profession has known for years:  most cases of low back pain are not temporary discomforts that go away by themselves. Instead, as the authors so aptly put, we should think of low back pain , “as a chronic problem with an untidy pattern of grumbling symptoms and periods of relative freedom from pain and disability interspersed with acute episodes, exacerbations, and recurrences.”  In other words, it doesn’t just “go away.”

doctor-said-it-would-go-away-2-flipLower back pain is cyclical in nature.  It keeps coming back.  In fact,  a previous episode of lower back pain is the strongest risk factor for a new episode.  Even more eye-opening is that by the age of 30 almost half of the population will have experienced a substantive episode of lower back pain.

With lower back pain virtually touching everyone at some point in their lives, it is nice to know that chiropractic is a viable option for most people suffering with lower back pain.  Numerous studies have found chiropractic care to be effective in the treatment of this condition.  A study published in 1990 in the British Medical Journal stated that “chiropractic almost certainly confers worthwhile, long-term benefit in comparison with hospital outpatient management,” and that “the benefit is seen mainly in those with chronic or severe pain.”   Spinal manipulation — the most common therapy performed by chiropractors — was deemed “recommended”  by the U.S. government’s Agency for Health Care Policy and Research in its 1994 published guidelines for treatment of acute low back pain in adults.

Chiropractic care is safe, effective, and has garnered high patient satisfaction ratings time and time again.  Chiropractic care focuses on restoring and maintaining healthy spinal function without the use of drugs and surgery.  Instead, your body’s own recuperative healing ability is empowered.

Pain in the lower back, or anywhere in the body for that matter, is your body’s way of communicating that a problem exists.  To merely suppress it with a pill or ignore it all together, would be like covering up the blinking oil light on your car’s dashboard with a piece of black tape. Instead, pain should be viewed as a good thing.  It’s a chance to find the problem.  A chance to find the cause.  Only then can real healing begin.

Ready to face that elephant?


Sources used for this article:
Bigos, et. al.  Acute low back problems in adults.  Clinical Practice Guideline, No. 14. AHCPR Publication 95-0642. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1994.
BMJ Study Dispels Back Pain Medical Myth.  Dynamic Chiropractic.  May 31, 1998.
Cancel the Chiropractor — Australia’s largest Daily Tells Readers.  Dynamic Chiropractic.  May 16, 1998.
Croft, et al.  Outcomes of low back pain in general practice:  a prospective study.  BMJ 1998.  316:  1356-9.
Meade, et. al.  Low back pain of mechanical origin:  Randomized comparison of chiropractic and hospital outpatient     treatment.  BMJ. (300)1431-1437.
Medical conclusions incorrect.  ACA Today.  August 1998.
Researchers confirm what patients have known all along:  Back pain doesn’t go away that easily.  ACA Today. Sept 1998.
Waddell.  A new clinical model for the treatment of low-back pain.  Spine 1987.  12:632-44.
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