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Some Pay More to Treat Back Pain, but Get Less

Payless shoe stores recently conducted a very telling social experiment. You may have heard about the shoe chain’s stunt in the news, but to recap, “The Payless Experiment” tricked consumers into buying their typically budget-friendly shoes at sky-high markups. To carry out the clever ruse, the discount retailer invited style influencers to a (fake) launch party for a new high-end label in one of Los Angeles’ glitziest shopping areas. The attendees believed that they were buying fashionable, high-quality footwear and therefore didn’t object to the three-figure price tags.

Aside from being a brilliant marketing ploy for Payless, what lessons does “The Payless
Experiment” have for our current healthcare system, and specifically for patients suffering from low back pain? The experiment is a commentary on perceived vs. real value and how easily people can be swayed into believing that something is as reliable as presented. Think about someone who has had weeks of pain and dysfunction stemming from low back pain: She wants to find a solution that will relieve her symptoms. If a physician presents surgery as the best option—and she’s assured that her pain will go away—then it’s going to sound appealing, right?

Today’s consumer has so many choices when shopping for just about anything from apparel to healthcare. But while it’s customary to shop for the best price for a goose down jacket (without sacrificing quality), shopping around for the best solution (and value) for our ailments is less typical. Due diligence in healthcare may ultimately bring you back to the first proposed solution, but it also may introduce you to solutions that you didn’t know existed.

In the case of low back pain, one such under-heralded solution is physical therapy. Physical therapy, yoga and acupuncture are gaining in popularity as equally (or more) effective and less costly than surgical procedures, injections, MRIs and pain relievers—and for good reason.

Physical therapists are trained to restore and improve patients’ mobility, reduce soft tissue pain, improve function and build muscle strength. They not only develop custom strategies to treat persistent or recurrent low back pain, but educate patients on the prevention of future issues. Some preventive techniques include adopting and following a regular exercise program and learning to lift correctly by keeping the object close to the body.

As you prepared for the holidays, you likely had a long list of gifts to buy. I’m willing to guess that you had a strategy in place for selecting appropriate gifts for each recipient. Just as you matched the right price point, size and color to each person on your list for the holidays, consider approaching your healthcare needs with the same level of scrutiny. After all, finding the right solution at the right price for our health needs contributes to improved long-term outcomes and better piece of mind!

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