Dr. Jack Stern is the author of the book Ending Back Pain: 5 Powerful Steps to Diagnose, Understand, and Treat Your Ailing Back. A neurosurgeon, he has been on the faculty of the Yale University School of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical Center. He is based in White Plains, New York.
Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about back pain?
A: The most common misperception is that all back pain will resolve on its own. My book Ending Back Pain has sold thousands of copies because unfortunately, that is not always the case. Sometimes lower back pain is a symptom of a more serious condition or not related to the back at all.
Q: How did you decide on the structure of this book, and on the five steps you describe to treat back pain?
A: As an M.D. and neurosurgeon with a Ph.D. in cell biology, I wanted to write a book that, as much as possible, was based on the current scientific/medical literature.
What I didn't want to do is write a book that was an expression of my personal opinions or a book that advocates for a single treatment modality. The book shelves at your local book store are filled with such volumes.
In order to accomplish this goal, I realized that there were at least five features that needed to be considered and these became the “5 Steps.”
1. I called the first "Unlocking Your Back Pain Code.” In these chapters, I review the general characteristics of the variety of different types of back pain. Then using descriptions and a check list I engage the reader in a journey of self-discovery about their specific pain.
2. The second section educates the reader, now armed with some notion of the nature of their pain, how to deal with an increasingly unresponsive medical system to advocate for the care they need.
3. The third is probably the most important section. I stress that low back pain is a description of what ails you and NOT a diagnosis!
Therefore I guide the reader, now prepared to face the challenges of the medical system, of what needs to be done to make the diagnosis. In lay terms "Which One of the Six Sources That Generate Back Pain is the One Causing My Pain!"
Then, once we have a handle on the diagnosis, I review the most common treatments for each. Importantly, I do so from least to most invasive treatment and give references to the medical literature that support that treatment.
4. In the next section, I address how healing is possible in the many instances when, despite the best of efforts, a diagnosis can’t be made.
5. How to maintain a healthy back is the subject of the final section.
Q: How common is back pain, and do most people find a successful method to treat it?
A: Lower back pain is the most expensive, benign condition in industrialized countries. Experts have estimated that approximately 80 percent of Americans will experience lower back pain during their lifetimes. The annual prevalence of lower back pain is 15-45 percent with a point prevalence of approximately 30 percent.
Sixty percent of those who suffer from acute lower back pain recover in six weeks and up to 80-90 percent recover within 12 weeks; however, the recovery of the remaining patients with lower back pain is less certain.
About 2 percent of American workers suffer compensable back injuries each year—a staggering 500,000 cases. Lower back pain accounts for 19% of all workers' compensation claims in the United States.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I am hoping that the reader develops a much better understanding of the cause of their pain and that with a proper diagnosis most everyone can be helped.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My colleagues and I are exploring the possibility that there is role for stem cells and the byproducts of stem cells in the treatment of degenerative disc disease. The possibility that these therapies may help millions of people is very exciting.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A; A large number of folks who have read the book as well as many who haven't have expressed an interest in consulting with me about their back pain.
Therefore, in the last year I began a second opinion consultation service. Folks can contact me with their medical records and MRIs, etc., which I will review.
I then contact them with my thoughts. They don't need to be in the New York area as I use video conferencing. Because, under no circumstances, will I take these folks on as patients. They get an unbiased, objective opinion based on my 35 years of experience.
To reach me, please visit my website.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb