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Low Back Pain Causes More Disability Globally Than Any Other Condition

March 19, 2015 in Article, Mid-Back Pain,
Posted by Thomas C. Schuler
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Imagine for a moment that you are no longer able to scoop up your child or grandchild into a hug; you can no longer perform your job, which supports your family; your favorite hobbies or travels with friends or family have to end or go on without you. I can speak first hand to the challenge this presents, but physically and emotionally. The scenarios described above are the unfortunate reality for the 90 million Americans who are afflicted with severe neck or low back pain annually. In fact low back pain is the number one cause of medical disability in the world. For years, we have been focused on treating the source of neck and low back pain with physical therapy, exercise, medication, spinal injections, and surgery. While spinal specialists have been successful in performing these traditional treatment options, to improve the lives of those suffering from spinal conditions, the ideal option is to develop ways to reverse the degenerative cascade. The latest alternative to spine surgery presents as just this; as we welcome the practice of regenerative medicine.

Two of the most promising techniques under the umbrella of regenerative medicine are 1) the use of stem cells, and 2) platelet-rich plasma (PRP). While these techniques are still considered experimental, the preliminary results are encouraging. Through a simple injection, spinal specialists are essentially turning back the clocks of time in the human body, improving one's painful condition and decreasing, if not eliminating, their disability. 

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy has been popularized in the athletic world for the treatment of various ligamentous injuries. Additionally, it is showing great promise in the spine for the treatment of degenerative discs. Encouraging results have also been found using an individual's own stem cells, collected from his or her pelvis or fat tissue, centrifuged down, and then injected into the injured or degenerative disc in an effort to slow the degenerative process. It is important to recognize that these modern procedures are not going to be the best fit for all patients who suffer from neck or lower back pain; but for those who would benefit, the results can be life changing. The clinician must understand both the traditional and more modern approaches in determining what works best for a given patient, and must also have the ability to move forward with the ideal form of treatment for the patient’s given situation. This is becoming increasingly difficult in the changing health care arena. 

The new health care structure in America serves as a challenge in advancing new treatments, especially when it comes to treating spinal conditions. Spinal health care has become an increasingly expensive item in American health care as the need and utilization of it has increased. In the fight by government and insurers to control cost, they have eliminated the ability to provide many optimal treatments and, more importantly, have restricted or prevented new technologies for many patients. 

An individual’s spinal health relies on two factors:
  1. The ability to prevent painful spinal conditions
    For the first, it’s fairly basic. Nicotine avoidance, proper diet, appropriate sleep, a well rounded exercise program, and practicing good ergonomics are highly beneficial and effective ways to reduce your chances of pain and/or degeneration. 
  2. The ability to heal them when genetics, injury, or time takes its toll.
    Theis more challenging factor requires the support of government and insurers to allow the providers to do their jobs to the best of their ability and provide the appropriate treatment to each individual patient.

Our goal, as spinal health care providers, is to provide the patient with the best customized treatment for his or her pathology and needs. In order to do so, it is imperative that insurers and government health care entities have the patient’s best interest in mind. They must support an environment which will allow for technologies and advancements, such as regenerative medicine, to be integrated into the modern health care armamentarium. Understanding that low back pain causes more disability globally than any other condition should drive clinicians, patients, and payers to want to seek novel approaches to eliminating this problem. If we do not do this, we will find ourselves in desperate situations with the aging population in the United States and the world becoming more disabled. Researching simpler and better options to solve spinal pain must be an essential priority for our government, educational institutions, research organizations, and insurers. 

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