Dr Henry Chan is an orthopaedic surgeon who previously led the Joint Replacement Unit in a major teaching hospital in Singapore.
In a popular DoctorxDentist post on back pain that's been read nearly 100,000 times, he gives an insightful low-down on the common causes of back pain, as well as the definitive method of treating it.
In between, he sprinkles plenty of amusing gems, referencing everything from the Star Wars Universe, to how treating back pain came to be a multi-million dollar industry in Singapore.
His original guide is nearly 2000 words long, but for those who prefer the TL;DR version, here are the key take-home messages.
Back pain treatment is a multi-million dollar industry in Singapore
Dr Henry kicks off by explaining that back pain is a massive, multi-million dollar industry, simply because so many Singaporeans suffer from back pain.
Correspondingly, tons of marketing money is poured into targeting back pain sufferers, which is why you often see advertisements offering free spine checks in heartland malls.
Get your back pain checked out if it has lasted over 3 months
By far, the most common cause of back pain that Dr Henry sees amongst Singaporeans is due to back strain.
However, he warns that if your back pain doesn't go away in a few days, then it might not just be a simple "strain" or result of wear and tear anymore.
Chronic back pain is back pain that's lasted more than 3 months. At this point, he advises getting checked by a doctor -- you might have a slipped disc, a pinched nerve, or even a cancerous growth in your spine.
Delays in back pain treatment can lead to disability
Dr Henry advised readers that there are several “red flag” symptoms that doctors always look out for:
- Severe pain that prevents you from sleeping, or wakes you up from sleep
- Unexplained loss of weight and loss of appetite
- Severe weakness of one leg or both legs that prevents you from walking properly
- Loss of control of bladder/bowel movements (you wet yourself or pooped yourself without knowing)
- If the pain lasts for three months or longer
- If the pain is so severe that you can’t even move or wake up from bed
These symptoms may be due to cancer and abnormal growths, and any delay in treatment could result in disability.
Chiropractic treatment for back pain has caused stroke and death
Dr Henry goes on further to explain why chiropractic treatment for back pain is NOT regulated or recognised by the Ministry of Health for treating back pain in Singapore, simply because there is no scientific evidence that any of their treatments, work.
More worryingly, he quoted well-documented dangers with the spinal adjustment treatment that chiropractors offer -- studies have reported multiple cases of stroke and death from spinal manipulation.
Readers who have seen chiropractors in Singapore largely concur with his views
From the Facebook comments on Dr Henry's back pain post, it's clear that many readers with first-hand experience of chiropractic treatments share the same sentiments.
But what about those who insist that chiropractic treatment works for back pain?
We'll let Dr Henry sum it up in his own words here:
"Do you feel better immediately after a massage? Probably.
Does it solve the problem? No."
According to the doctor, any improvement in back pain after chiropractic treatment is only temporary and due purely to a placebo effect.
The real key to treating back pain
Dr Henry recommended that the best way to permanently treat back pain is ensuring that it is tailored to the actual cause of your back pain, your current condition, and your lifestyle requirements.
He explained that the two mainstays of back pain treatment administered by doctors are:
1. Physiotherapy. A properly tailored and supervised physiotherapy programme will help to reduce back pain in most. Treatment normally begins with traction and heat therapy, followed by exercise programmes to improve the strength and stamina of your back and spinal muscles. Regularly performing these exercises will help to prevent back pain from recurring.
2. Medications can help to relieve back pain, reduce inflammation, and decrease muscle spasm. Examples include NSAIDS and muscle relaxants.
The good news is that in patients with back pain who do seek proper medical treatment, 90% percent of people eventually get better in two to six weeks, without the need for any invasive treatment at all.
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