New research suggests that more upstate New Yorkers with back pain are undergoing surgery and taking prescription opioids, despite the availability of noninvasive treatments.

More than 80% of upstate New York adults will experience low back pain, with nearly 67% will experience neck pain.

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The study’s findings revealed the following:

  • Surgeries for the treatment of back pain among upstate New York adults saw a 10% increase in utilization from 2010 to 2013.
  • Nearly 14% of spine patients who were prescribed a medication within the first 6 weeks of diagnosis from 2010 to 2013.
  • Almost 50% of patients treated for spine pain received a prescription for medication to treat the condition within the first 6 weeks of diagnosis in 2013.

In 2013, 626 000 upstate New York adults ages 18 and older received back, neck pain, or both that added nearly $1 billion to total, direct health care costs in the region. Nearly 40% of that amount was spent on surgery.

Brian Justice, DC, a chiropractor and medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, told Clinical Pain Advisor that they are not sure why more upstate New Yorkers with back pain are undergoing spine pain treatments.

“We don’t know exactly why this is occurring, but our goal is to encourage more patient/provider conversations around this issue,” Dr Justice said. “We believe part of this trend toward increased care utilization is due to a cultural shift that has often labeled back and neck pain as a disease looking for a cure, where the data would suggest it is more accurately thought of as a common aspect of life that needs to be managed.”

The researchers believe the following activities can assist patients with low back pain: staying active, limiting bed rest, using pillows between or beneath the knees when you sleep, applying heat for pain management, taking over-the-counter medications when needed, consulting your primary care provider or alternative non-surgical treatment provider (such as a physical therapist and chiropractor) if needed and remaining relaxed to avoid worsening pain.

“At the national level, I’d love to see more research around the longer-term ramifications/outcomes of someone prescribed an opiate for a spine-related disorder,” she said. “I’d also like to see better comparative research between pharmaceutical pain options and more research on patient attitude and engagement in pain management.”


The Facts About Spine Care in Upstate New York. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Accessed March 16, 2016.