96% of back pain can be treated by GPs

Published: Mon 13 Oct 2008 10:21 AM
Media release
96% of back pain can be treated by GPs – without surgery
Low back pain and sciatica will be come under the microscope at a Melbourne conference involving four Australasian medical organisations specialising in the treatment of these conditions.
The Australasian Musculoskeletal Medicine Conference will be held at The Sebel, Albert Park 17-19 October.
According to conference organiser, Dr Vic Wilk, Melbourne musculoskeletal physician, 96% of back pain partients who are referred to orthopaedic surgeons do not require surgery.
“They can be treated in general practice,” Dr Wilk said.
“Low back pain costs Australians approximately $1 billion per annum and could be treated better than it is at present.”
He said the conference will discuss assessment and treatment of back pain according to simple evidence-based guidelines instead of rushing into overuse of high-tech investigations which don’t always find the source of the pain.
“Much back pain is self-limiting and can be treated by GPs in their own practices”.
“We would like to see a reduction in the current overloads experienced by hospital orthopaedic outpatient departments as more GPs become confident in assessing and treating back pain.
“GPs already have a solid medical education and are easily able to adopt the measures recommended in all of the guidelines in treating this problem.”
Dr Wilk and his organisation, the Australasian Faculty of Musculoskeletal Medicine, along with the Australian Association of Musculoskeltal Medicne, the Australian College of Physical Medicine, and the New Zealand Association of Musculoskeletal Medicine, will bring together a number of experts in the fields of surgery, radiology, psychology and rehabilitation.
Professor Nikolai Bogduk (Newcastle) and Dr Brian McGuirk are keynote speakers. Both have already published landmark work on treatment of acute low back pain, and their work forms the basis of the guidelines used in Australia.
“Most episodes of back pain are not suited to surgery. Most can be dealt with using conservative measures. Of course, one needs skills to be able to sort out those needing surgical attention and those who do not.
Dr McGuirk will present a study showing that 82% of patients referred to surgeons for treatment of back pain did not need to see the surgeon at all. And of the other 18%, less than one-quarter required surgery.
“Our aim is to get all GPs skilled in this area of medicine so that we can stem the flood of disability due to back pain,” Dr Wilk said..
“We can do this by having the GP intervene earlier and more effectively – and without having to perform too many expensive – and sometimes harmful – investigations.”
The doctors who practise in this area full-time use a variety of techniques, ranging from manual (hands-on) treatments, psychological interventions, and behavioural therapy, exercise therapy, to injections into muscles and joints and around nerves.
Unlike surgeons, chiropractors or physiotherapists GPs are dealing with the whole of the patient’s health problems, and back pain is just a part of this.
The conference will combine scientific meetings with practical workshops.

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