April 2, 2001 -- Eric Taylor suffered from back pain for almost 30 years. He tried physical therapy, pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medicines, and surgery, but nothing worked. His doctor told him he could have steel rods placed in his spine or put up with the pain for the rest of his life.
How do you know when that achy pain in your back is more than you can handle alone? Experts agree -- if your back pain is in conjunction with any of the following symptoms, skip the at-home remedies for in-office help.
There are several red flags that doctors look for when evaluating low back pain.
The purpose of these warning signs is to detect fractures, tumors, or infections of the spine. If you have any of these red flags along with back pain, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Taylor sought an alternative. A friend told him about a new procedure called vertebral axial decompression (VAX-D) that might relieve pain without surgery. Taylor thought, why not?
"As long as it was nonsurgical and noninvasive, I was open to it," says Taylor, a 54-year-old attorney in St. Louis. "I was ready."
Nearly 70% of all people will suffer from low-back pain at some point in their lives, according to the CDC. It is the most common work-related injury, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports. There is little, however, that can be done. Bed rest is the most prescribed remedy, followed by exercise, muscle relaxants, pain medication, physical therapy, chiropractic intervention, and surgery. These and other methods often fail to provide long-term relief. But researchers say there is new hope: The VAX-D therapeutic table.
Approved by the FDA in 1996, the device was designed by Allan E. Dyer, MD, PhD, a former Canadian deputy health minister who helped develop the heart defibrillator. Treatment using the table is said to relieve lower back pain by applying tension to the spinal column to decompress the intervertebral discs.
A study published in April 1998 in The Journal of Neurological Research found that VAX-D is effective in relieving pain in 71% of cases. The majority of the 778 patients -- cases reviewed from 22 centers across the country -- reported a reduction in pain to a level of 0 or 1 on a 0 to 5 scale (with 5 being the highest level of pain). About 1% of patients reported an increase in pain, while 7% experienced no change. About 4% of the patients had had previous lumbar disc surgery. The researchers suggest that postsurgical patients who still have persistent pain should try VAX-D before considering further surgery.