I just read an interesting article by Dr. Mehmet Oz in a recent issue of Time Magazine.
In it he mentions the term pain numerous times in the context of physical, mental and spiritual aspects of health. While I generally agree with Dr. Oz’s article, there are a couple of issues that I’d like to clarify.
The first is the fact that pain is not a diagnosis. Simply diagnosing someone as having “chronic pain” is almost as vague as your auto mechanic saying “your car’s broken” or your plumber saying “you’ve got a leak.” It’s important to understand the specific diagnosis – is there a herniated disk, a fracture, arthritis, or pinched nerve, for example. Each has a different prognosis, and warrants different treatment options. Sometimes we physicians don’t have all the answers, but that’s when its time to get a second opinion or see a specialist. If a specific diagnosis can’t be made, its still important to be as specific as possible, ie “persistent low back pain due to disk herniation” rather than just a generic : “chronic pain.”
The second is the importance of how back pain affects how we function as a society. Dr. Oz didn’t mention that while low back pain costs our nation over $75 billion every year, most of this is due to lost productivity, wages, and costs related to administrative and legal expenses. The actual medical costs (including scans, medications and even surgeries) make up a small fraction of the total.
Spine Physiatrists are physicians with specialized training to diagnose and treat people with low back pain, but their ultimate goal is to optimize your level of functioning- for work, tasks at home, or sports. They realize that function and pain are not mutually exclusive when it comes to recovering and rehabilitating from back pain.
Sometimes pain doesn’t interfere with the sports or activities you love or the tasks that have to get done, but if low back pain is keeping you from functioning – think about seeing a Physiatrist.