Harvard Women's Health Watch

Back pain treatment doesn't follow recommendations

Many people are being overtreated for their back pain using therapies that don't conform to current guidelines, finds a Harvard Medical School study published online July 29 in JAMA Internal Medicine. The study analyzed nearly 24,000 office visits for new or long-term back pain. More than half of the patients were women. Current back pain treatment guidelines recommend NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and naproxen) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), or physical therapy. The same guidelines advise against routine MRI or CT scans, narcotics, and early referrals for injections or surgery. Yet the study found that more and more doctors are ignoring these guidelines, instead prescribing narcotic drugs and referring patients for CT or MRI scans and aggressive treatments. If you're living with back pain, the Harvard Special Health Report Low Back Pain: Healing your aching back (health.harvard.edu/LBP) recommends starting with more conservative measures, such as cold and heat, exercise, and NSAIDs before seeing your doctor.

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