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Study: Managing Back Pain With Less Medication Less Costly

August 2, 1994

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Back-pain sufferers who take less medication and move around a lot will recover just as well as people told to take more medicine and rest, a study concludes.

Patients with the least medical attention also were more satisfied with their treatment and were charged 79 percent less, according to researchers from the Center for Health Studies and the University of Washington in Seattle.

Back pain strikes 85 percent of people at some time. Only the common cold leads to more visits to doctors.

The two-year study was based on interviews with 1,213 patients who sought help for back pain at a Seattle health maintenance organization. It was published Monday in the Philadelphia-based Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers questioned back patients at Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound about their treatment and results.

Patients given more treatment and rest reported no advantage in the amount of pain they experienced or how quickly they recovered, the study found.

And patients whose doctors prescribed less medication and rest said they were happier with their treatment, particularly about advice they were given on taking care of their pain themselves.

The annual cost of medical care for back pain averaged $428 for patients whose doctors prescribed the least medicine and bed rest, and $768 for patients whose doctors suggested more aggressive care, the researchers found.

Michael Von Korff, associate director of the Center for Health Studies, said the cost estimates make sense because back pain is a recurring problem.

Dr. Tony Rosner, director of research for the Foundation for Chiropractic Education and Research in Arlington, Va., said the study reflects a trend toward less hospitalization and other medical treatment.

″It’s consistent with just about every type of medical therapy that we seem to be witnessing,″ Rosner said.

Rosner also said people risk more pain or slower recovery if they rest too long.

″A person is maybe getting himself or herself into a deeper hole by remaining immobile over an extended period of time,″ Rosner said.

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