Spinal treatment costs skyrocket, to little effect

Despite spending a dramatically higher amount than before on treatments for spinal pain, Americans aren't getting great results, according to a new study. The study, which appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that spending on spinal treatments in the U.S. totaled almost $86 billion in 2005, up 65 percent from 1997 after adjusting for inflation. On an individual basis, people with spinal problems spent $6,096 each on medical care in 2005, as compared with $3,516 by those who didn't have such problems. The higher spinal treatment costs are driven by a much-larger outlay for drugs, particularly narcotic painkillers like OxyContin.

Nonetheless, despite all of this activity and expense, the percentage of people with impaired functioning attributed to spinal problems grew during that seven year period (even after adjusting for the aging population). Such studies have led some observers to question whether standard treatments like surgeries, injections and narcotic pain meds are being used more widely than they should be.

To learn more about the study:
- read this piece in The New York Times

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