Anyone who has endured back pain knows it is an erratic dictator. It takes hold of your psyche, demanding your attention and devotion before all else—before you can plan a hike, return to a work routine, pick up your child for a hug. So when someone offers to make that dictator disappear, it’s hard to resist—no matter what the price.
“People in pain are poor decision-makers,” says the investigative journalist Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author of a new book, Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery.
Millions such bad decisions, she argues, have fueled a $100-billion-per-year back pain industry in the US—one that’s largely selling Americans wrong and even dangerous responses to back discomfort. These include unnecessary painkillers, injections, surgeries, and chiropractic “adjustments.”
About 80% of Americans are expected to suffer from at least one episode of lower back pain in their lifetime, and millions with chronic pain are already lost in the industry, subjected to pseudo-interventions, or taking unnecessary and addictive opioids like Vicodin or Oxycontin, then doubling down on the drugs as their tolerance and the pain escalates. (In some cases, the increased pain is actually caused by the opioids.)
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