Friday, February 15, 2008

Back pain persists; the New York Times is puzzled

"Americans are spending more money than ever to treat spine problems, but their backs are not getting any better."

That's the first line in an article in Wednesday's New York Times, and that pretty much tells you the story.

As strong as the article is on statistics and evidence of the widespread problem, the Times remains as puzzled about it as the medical mainstream whose actions are being tracked, and, seemingly, as close-minded:

"It is not clear why more people appear to be suffering from back and neck pain," writes health reporter Tara Parker-Pope. "It could be because of rising obesity rates, researchers suggested. Or excessive treatment of back problems could lead to more problems."

More accurate it would be to say that it is not clear to tradition-bound western medical practitioners why more people appear to be suffering from back and neck pain. But to other experts--Dr. John Sarno among them--it's very clear. Our culture is in the midst of an epidemic of mind-body disorders. The back pain is largely psychogenic.

But that is not, apparently, for the Times to say, or even insinuate. Had the article left it an unaccountable mystery, we would have been better off. Instead, Parker-Pope passes along two suggestions from her medical sources that are, frankly, unscientific and borderline comical.

"Rising obesity rates"? Someone should tell that to *my* back. And note the ever-popular evasive attribution: "researchers suggested." The obesity witch hunt continues, and it is not, I don't think, unrelated to our medical establishment's inability to absorb the reality of an intimate mind-body connection. I'll save that for another post someday.

As for the second suggestion--the idea that "more people appear to be suffering from back and neck pain" because "excessive treatment of back problems could lead to more problems": um, well...huh? I can understand how excessive treatment of back problems could prolong existing conditions. But how could excessive treatment of people who already have back pain create more people with back pain? That was the original puzzle: "why more people appear to be suffering from back and neck pain."

That American doctors might actually think that this makes more sense than acknowledging the fact that our bodies and minds are connected and influence each other shows us, sadly, how far we yet have to go in moving mind-body medicine into the mainstream here in the U.S.


Lynn said...

Hi! I just wanted to applaud your comments...I was going to blog about the same thing but you articulated quite clearly. Also, if you haven't read it already, you might find Eckhart Tolle's, 'The New Earth' worth a read. And please visit my blog if you have the inclination at I have used Dr. Sarno's approach to heal not only back pain, but Spasmodic Dysphonia (spasms of the vocal cords).

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the kind words. I'm happy to check your blog out. I'm still in the process of building mine up a bit; when I add a list of links to other blogs, I'll put a link up to yours.