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Treating back pain costs Americans over $86 billion each year, a figure that includes the price of around 800,000 back surgeries performed annually. However, the effectiveness of different treatments for reducing pain is a subject of continuing debate. A recent study in Spine Journal investigated how often low back pain sends people to the emergency room, and confirms past research that diagnostic tools often are overused in these situations. In many cases, a visit to the ER can be less effective for pain relief and far more expensive than an integrated approach, such as one that incorporates chiropractic care.

An analysis of emergency room visits in the United States conducted by researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that low back pain injuries accounted for 2.3% of all visits to the ER, some 2.63 million visits each year. Once admitted, patients are likely to undergo extensive diagnostic testing, receiving an MRI, CT scan or radiograph, and two-thirds are prescribed opioids for pain relief. The reliance on diagnostic tools makes an ER visit a relatively expensive way to treat back pain, and the researchers conclude that significant cost savings are possible when treatment shifts to a primary care setting. This switch would also allow health care professionals to assess patients for risk factors before prescribing any medications, including opioids, and consider drug-free, noninvasive alternatives for pain relief, including chiropractic care.

Friedman BW, Chilstrom M, Bijur PE, Gallagher EJ. Diagnostic testing and treatment of low back pain in United States emergency departments: A national perspective. Spine Journal. 15 November 2010. 35:24. E1406-E1411.