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Some Americans Pay More for Back Pain Relief, But Are They Really Getting Less?


Payless recently conducted a very telling social experiment. You probably heard about the shoe
chain’s stunt in the news but just to recap quickly, “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 but also how easily
people can be swayed into believing that something is 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. Doing our due diligence in healthcare may ultimately bring us back to the first proposed
solution, but it also may introduce us to solutions that we 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 the holidays kick into high gear, you likely have a long list of gifts to buy. I’m willing to guess
that you have a strategy in place for selecting appropriate gifts for each recipient. As you match
the right price point, size and color to each person on your list this holiday season, think about
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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