Treatment of Spine Damage vs. Pain Management for the Lower Back

Finding relief for lower back pain is often a top priority, and there are many options that can be pursued. The most common of these treatment options are surgery and prescription pain medications. Corrective surgery often carries a higher upfront cost, but the benefits of choosing this option over long-term prescription use can significantly improve quality of life and extend a sufferers lifespan. Prescription drugs offer a lower but continual expense to the sufferer with only short term relief.

The Dangers of Prolonged Prescription Drug Use

A recent study noted that more than half of back pain patients are prescribed medications from their doctor. While providing some short-term relief, the downsides to using pharmaceuticals as a long-term solution can be extensive. Considering how highly addictive in nature these prescriptions are, it places individuals with chronic back pain at high risk of dependency.

After taking painkillers over time, they often become less effective as the sufferer builds a tolerance to them. This leads to increasing dosages or switching to stronger medications to help handle the pain. The same study noted that out of more than 26,000 patients who had seen a doctor for back pain, nearly 20 percent became long-term opioid users. Nearly 40 percent took a combination of long and short opioid narcotics, while a large percentage of the patients will be treated at an emergency room for opioid abuse or misuse.

Long-term use can lead to a heightened sensitivity to pain, sleep apnea or irregular breathing, intestinal issues, coronary problems, dizziness, and altered equilibration. In addition to exasperated medical conditions, pain medication abuse can also lead to feelings of depression, increased anxiety, and decreased mental status.

Long-Term Costs of Medication versus Spinal Surgery

While the cost of pain medications may seem fairly small initially, these costs can add up significantly over time, especially if doses must be increased or additional medications are prescribed to help with pain management, and sub sequentially secondary symptoms from the medical side effects.

Painkillers provide only a short-term pain management solution to back pain as they do not address any of the physical issues that are responsible for the pain itself. Instead, they only mask these problems. This can lead to taking prescriptions regularly for months or even years. On the other hand, surgical options provide a much more direct and long-term solution to lower back pain.

Corrective surgery is sometimes viewed as a last resort, and the costs of procedures can seem like an expensive option initially. However, surgery generally provides effective and timely results, quickly increasing quality of life and eliminating the need to continue to use pain medications. A study of more than 600 patients compared pain levels at three months, one year, and two years between individuals who underwent surgery and those who did not. The pain levels experienced by patients who underwent spinal surgery were nearly three times lower than those who did not. These same trends continued over the entire two year period, showing the effectiveness and efficiency that surgical procedures carry.

The Real Cost of Pain Management with Medication

Chronic use of pain medications can be quite costly, but exactly how costly can they be? A 2009 study analyzed the medical costs in relation to low back pain for nearly 14,000 patients, and noted whether the patients were taking prescription medications. For patients not taking medications, the average monthly cost was $430, which equates to an annual cost of $5,160.

On the other hand, individuals who were taking prescription medications had an average monthly cost of $1,222. This equals an annual cost of $14,664. Patients taking medication regularly spent upwards of $9,500 more per year than those who did not. It is also likely that these numbers have only increased due to inflation over the past decade. This is a significant cost, and this discrepancy repeats itself year after year.

On top of prescription costs, other costs must be considered as well. There may be days where you may be unable to work or take care of your children, which could result in missed pay from work or increased childcare costs.

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