Nine Years Ago...

I’ve been an investigative reporter for four decades, but nine years ago, when I began to search for a solution to my own persistent back pain, I was as naive as any other patient. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this area of healthcare was especially rife with problems. The more I dug, the more I found, much of it absolutely startling. That’s why I decided to write Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery, which is being published this week.


After 6 years of research and more than 500 interviews with experts and patients, I’m ready to share what I know. Here’s a list of six “don’ts” that will help put your treatment in context — and keep you and your spine out of harm’s way.

  1. Don’t rush off to have a spinal MRI. In terms of tracking down the “pain generator,” these scans are inconclusive. But they often lead to spine surgery.

2. Don’t assume that because you have low back pain, you should get an epidural steroid injection. These are useful only under very specific conditions, but usually, they’re ineffective and sometimes harmful.

3.Don’t agree to sign up for multiple sessions, months or years of
chiropractic treatment, unless you enjoy wasting money. One adjustment may help, in back pain of recent onset.

4. Don’t put your trust in a physical therapy clinic where exercise is an afterthought and PT assistants administer heat, cold and electrical stimulation.

5. Don’t conclude that you need to look for a smarter spine surgeon, if a highly reputable doctor tells you that he’s sorry, but there’s nothing he can do for you — because you don’t need spine surgery.

6. Don’t surmise, even for a second, that being “sent to pain management” represents a solution to your problems. Instead, recognize that such a referral means that your primary care doctor or surgeon wants you off his or her hands.

For more on these topics — and many others — visit And look for my next installment: Six “Do’s” for back pain sufferers.

Available Today!

Available Today!