Back pain is one of the US' most persistent health problems, but despite new treatment possibilities, Newsweek reports, cures remain elusive. Americans spent $85.9 billion in 2005 on medical costs relating to back pain, up from $52.1 billion in 1997. "We seem to be doing more and more," one physician said. "But there's no evidence that people are getting more pain relief."
Expensive—and perhaps unnecessary—imaging tests, repeat surgeries, and expensive prescription painkillers have all ballooned the medical tab. Critics blame that rising cost on Americans' preference for quick, high-tech solutions rather than hard lifestyle changes: The cheaper options of exercise and physical therapy can be just as effective as pricey surgery, experts say.