Crooked Back Pain Industry: The Things that Might Surprise You

Aug 13, 2017

Lower back pain isn’t new to almost everyone as 80% of Australians experience it and 10% of them have suffered from disability as a result. When it comes to treatments, back pain sufferers have different preferences on how to address their problems.

At our state-of-the-art Mount Lawley and North Perth Exercise Studio’s, it’s not uncommon for some people to come to us after many failed treatments, prescriptions, and well-meaning advice.

For example, some people rely on over-the-counter medicines. Others see their doctor and get some prescriptions. And in some cases, people go for back surgery — all of which carry some risks.

Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery

Investigative journalist Cathryn Jakobson Ramin wrote a new book, Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery, which includes her 6-year quest for solutions to her chronic back pain. Ramin went across the globe, underwent numerous therapies, and interviewed more than 600 patients, doctors and therapists, who are all linked to the $100 billion-a-year industry. In the end, she found what truly worked for her – intensive, directed exercise.

After spending decades and thousands of dollars on treatments for her chronic back pain, Ramin discovered a larger problem in the world of spine health.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Ramin described a personal diagnosis, which is degenerative disc disease.

In a young and healthy back, discs between the vertebra add length to your back and allow you to bend, flex, and twist. The discs serve as a cushion between the bones of the spine and help the back keep flexible while resisting forces. But as we age, the discs begin to shrink and lose integrity. This is a degenerative disc disease.

The journalist learned that over the years, everybody has degenerated discs in their spine and it is a part of a normal ageing process and is something that she doesn’t need to worry about too much. In her experience, the doctor’s receptionist once spoke to her in a very serious tone that they needed to talk about what should be next for her degenerating spine. As what she sees today, it’s very much a marketing term and a way to sell surgery.

Spine Surgery

If you are struggling with a certain degree of back pain, perhaps spine surgery would be necessary, yes? NO according to Ramin.

Ramin posed a question to spine surgeons: ‘Would you have spine surgery?’ Surprisingly, everyone answered ‘No’ except for one. 

Drug Companies

Ramin believes Doctors aren’t likely giving patients advice based on the best medical evidence. Instead, they prescribe treatments that don’t actually help with back pain and can expose people to serious risk.

Opioids, which are overprescribed, have fueled the epidemic of opioid dependence, addiction and overdose deaths. Ramin unveiled that doctors felt compelled to prescribe opioids and behind that are the drug companies, pushing that all back pain should be treated immediately with opioids.


Ramin states Chiropractors are one of the big players in the field of back pain overseas. Millions of people seek chiropractic care in the US. Chiros address back pain often by spinal adjustment.

According to Ramin, 1-2 chiropractic sessions may help – however, there’s no evidence that it can help more than that. And she mentioned chiropractors will tell you to come regularly, for a long time, for maintenance purposes.

The Takeaway

Do your research before you decide to put your faith in any treatment provider. Don’t hesitate to ask questions such as ‘why’ in case they tell you to have an MRI, for example.  It might be to prepare you for either surgery or an epidural steroid injection.

Ramin’s practical advice to back pain sufferers is to develop an intensive exercise program. And it doesn’t stop there. You have to change your mindset about back pain. If you get moving, it is unlikely that you will damage yourself.

So ultimately, a couple of things that will help you with your chronic back pain are exercise and mindset. And when it comes to these, the person who can help you a lot is someone who knows the mechanics of your body and how it should be moving perfectly suited to your lifestyle demands and goals – a physiotherapist who works in purpose-built facilities for exercise rehab.

Please note the above info is shared courtesy of Ramin’s new book. Although here at Happy Physio we are big believers in the right type of exercise for helping people get back to pain-free.

If needed, our Perth physiotherapists at Happy Physio are here to help you. You can book a session with us on 9272 7359 today to get your body back on track.