According to the latest figures, one in every six working days lost due to ill-health is due to back pain. See this article reporting on lost work days due to back pain. On average about 80% of the population suffer at some time from a back related problem and that equates to 119 million working days being lost each year and the annual cost to the UK business is in excess of £12 billion annually.
Apart from the pain and suffering, the mental, social and financial consequences can be quite severe. The unfortunate fact is that the usual methods of treatment come nowhere near to offering any effective solution. A 70% or 80% or even 90% relief of symptoms is not good enough when 99.9% IS possible.
It is unfortunate that despite the regular advances in medicine, there is still far too much emphasis placed on determining and labeling the symptom/s rather than determining the cause. “Why” should be the buzzword. If your car had a soft tyre which then went flat, how would you feel if the ‘tyre expert’ commented on the wear created by running with the tyre soft. Then went on to say “What you have is a puncture – I’ll put some air in it and see how it is next week”. “If that doesn’t work I’ll give the tyre a polish and see if it feels better”. The puncture is the ‘symptom’, the ’cause’ is a hole. So why not just fix the hole?
The labelling of a symptom is too easy, it takes a little more courage to ask why? – what is the cause? Because the cause is not identified, all the usual treatment, be it conventional or otherwise, is thus concentrated on treating the symptom/s rather than the cause. There have been instances of the problem being made worse where the treatment of the symptom/s or inappropriate test procedures have greatly aggravated the cause. This is not as uncommon as we suppose.
When people meet, besides commenting on the weather, the next topic of enquiry will often be our health. We all know friends who have some form of health problem even if it is just a cold, a touch of flu or an ache, usually described as arthritis or wear and tear. To attend our problems there is a vast pharmaceutical industry geared up to supply us with all manner of pills and medications to relieve our suffering. Because so many people have some ache or pain, which their GP has not been able ascribe to any particular injury or disease, it becomes accepted as normal and part of our way of life. Apart from taking or being prescribed a painkiller, there is not much expectation of proper relief. So any treatment that eases the symptoms is considered to be of value. The shortfall is that because our expectation of proper relief is so limited and an ache or muscular type pain is not considered life threatening, then any normal treatment is geared towards treating the symptoms with more of a hope than an expectation of full relief.
The acceptance of a low expectation in terms of proper relief for their pains means that patients will very often give up on their treatment when they find that meaningful progress is not being made towards proper relief of their aches and pains. When a patient does not return for further treatment it is often assumed that the treatment has been successful. Often it is because the progress they have made after several visits is only slight and if they are paying for the treatment privately, the costs are adding up. This dissatisfaction is perhaps further heightened by the failing of the treatment provider to be able to give the patient a satisfactory and logical explanation of what the problem actually is and why they are treating it a certain way. Despite much discussion and research by the medical profession, they frequently confess that they do not really understand the cause of most back pain. It is thus labelled 'non-specific back pain'.
With no clear idea of what cause is supposed to be treated, the prognosis is consequently uncertain and the patient naturally has no reason to feel confident about the treatment being given. This lack of confidence also means that at the onset of any back trouble many people will not even bother to consult their GP. Many rightly believe that all the GP will do is put a label on symptoms and hand them a prescription which most will have to pay for. They might even have an x-ray or an MRI scan taken which will probably not show anything at best or some slight wear and tear in the discs at worse. The end result is that statistics for back trouble only show the worst cases and not the general pattern.