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Are Physicians Inappropriately Treating Back Pain? 

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Although there are well-validated published guidelines for the management of back pain, a new study shows that physicians are not following them. Researchers from Harvard Medical School propose several reasons for this discordant care: The historical admonition that physicians have failed to treat patients’ pain adequately, greater availability of imaging centers, reduced physician to patient time, patient demand for quick answers and the general growing fear of malpractice are to name a few.

But the lack of support of these guidelines healthcare costs are up with no signs of improvement in quality of care. Researchers found that narcotic use increased from 19.3 percent to 29.1 percent between 1999 to 2010 in a review of 23,918 patients.  Physical therapy referrals remained stagnant while the use of imaging modalities such as MRIs and CT scans increased from 7.2 percent to 11.3 percent.

Spinal symptoms are among the most common reasons patients visit a physician and more than 10 percent of visits to primary care physicians relate to back and neck pain.

The Harvard Medical School findings are published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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