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Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  644 ratings  ·  118 reviews
The acclaimed author of Carved in Sand—a veteran investigative journalist who endured persistent back pain for decades—delivers the definitive book on the subject: an essential examination of all facets of the back pain industry, exploring what works, what doesn't, what may cause harm, and how to get on the road to recovery.

In her effort to manage her chronic back pain, in
ebook, 448 pages
Published May 9th 2017 by Harper
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CapnFantastic I found Dr. Stuart McGill's (one of the author's "spine whisperers") book Back Mechanic to be the perfect follow-up read for further specific assessme…moreI found Dr. Stuart McGill's (one of the author's "spine whisperers") book Back Mechanic to be the perfect follow-up read for further specific assessment and exercise suggestions.(less)
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Jun 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked this book a lot, however, something was missing. Ramin does a fine job critiquing the spine surgeon and Chiropractic industry but when it comes to the therapists and other service forms of healing she comes across more as a devotee and loses her critical edge. She also does a poor job providing context. For example, over and over she meets with specialists in the field with rock-star personas. In passing she says that you have to watch out for people who tout specialties but are really p ...more
Peggy Fegler
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
6 things I learned from this book
1. Two people can have the same MRI. One will have back pain the other won't.
2. Don't have back surgery
3. Don't have epidural spinal injections.
4.Don't take opioids.
5. Sitting for hour after hour is bad. Get up and move.
6. Find a good physical therapist who works with you to have a good workout/ stretch program.
Oct 31, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good take-down of the back surgeons and others who are exploiting back-pain sufferers.

Overall, the book is quite good as an expose of what is wrong with the entire American for-profit fee-for-service medical-industrial complex. Its morally hazardous incentive system cannot function without strict regulation. Unfortunately, self-regulation is not happening in the current culture of corruption and incompetence.

For people with a bad back, the problem is that the author's recommendations
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a difficult book for me to review. I felt like I was reading two different books. The first half debunks the traditional back relief approaches from steroid shots, back surgery, chiropractic help, etc. The author is adamant that back surgery for the most part doesn't work. Also, all of the pain medications are also negative. They are addictive and they don't solve anything. Actually, it was quite discouraging. She did emphasize the extremes and all of the things that can go wrong. Howev ...more
Nancy Newcomer
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you have chronic back pain you need to read this. Hard to know where to start. Author is a decades-long investigative reporter. She suffered back pain and got into the back-pain-industrial - complex.

About 3 years ago I developed excruciating lower back pain when I stand or walk more than about 10 minutes. It is caused by arthritis and "natural age-related deterioration." There is no operative solution for this.

I saw many doctors, including a pain clinic, and have had several bouts of months
Jo Ann
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think this is essential reading for anyone with consistent spinal difficulties/pain. Having had spinal surgery last year that did nothing for the pain, I related to much of what Ramin had to say. I would give this a "5" except that many of the recommendations are not available to everyone, and this is a glaring omission. However, I still think it's a fantastic book! ...more
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
All the ways capitalism has fucked up how we treat back pain, basically. Ought to be accompanied by a separate book about all the ways capitalism has fucked up our backs to begin with. Learned a lot.
Athan Tolis
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: health
I was 35 and half in January of 2004, past the age when men get to change the world. My back had never been fantastic. I had rowed crew, was swimming or lifting daily (often both) and regularly playing squash. After an unsuccessful first attempt at entrepreneurship I was getting back into trading bonds for a Wall Street house. This entailed a daily commute by car to and from Canary Wharf. By then I was already visiting my osteopath Kris, mainly to deal with a “psoas’ bursitis,” whatever that mea ...more
Clinton Hutchings
A rough book to get through. Good (or at least a lot of) data on all the bad things the medical profession does to your back, which relatively little, if any, helps (most seem to actually be damaging). But so, so long and very repetitive. And the second half of the book, where Ramin goes through remedies, are not very thorough, no real direction except there might be something out there (other than surgery of course). This is one of those times where the author reading her own work is tough to l ...more
Mar 29, 2020 rated it did not like it
Back pain is complex and so is human body. Our knowledge of human physiology is at its infancy. When man become erect spine bears all the brunt and is bound to degenerate. Why to some it causes pain is still unknown. The biopsychosocial approach is our best bet as of now. Pain has a biology, a social and psychological factors. The author cherry picks few cases and conveniently forgets thousands who might have improved. Complications happen with all procedures, like driving. The book is like inte ...more
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am a physical medicine and rehabilitation chiropractor. I found Crooked to be factual, entertaining, enlightening and pretty thorough. Her conclusion- that most back pain sufferers are mis-treated due to ignorance is spot on. She rightly includes all professions that may be involved in caring for this patient population and points to the minority successful practitioners and programs for guidance. Lay readers may be left feeling hopeless due to physical, financial or other inability to enjoy c ...more
Elizabeth Schlatter
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
First half of the book is one depressing chapter after another about medical interventions (procedures & drugs) that were hailed over the past 10 years as miracle cures for back pain, and all failed -- most noticeably the opioid epidemic. Last half, or third, is about the author's exploration of mostly non-intervention practices to assist with back pain, everything from intensive 3-week programs to rolfing, Tai Chi, etc. Lessons learned are... for general back pain and degeneration, don't do any ...more
Alison Dawson
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was close to giving this a 3 star as there are some things I have issues with in this book. However, she provides such a wealth of important information on this subject that is SO important to any of us with back issues that I am willing to give it 4 stars! I had a single level cervical fusion 2 years ago that just made things worse. Reading the first half of this book just made me so angry that doctors are prescribing interventions that have low effectiveness rate. One issue I had with this b ...more
May 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I am a physical therapy student and have had 1 instance of back pain in my life lasting for about 4 months.

It took me a long time to make it through this book. I can see that so much work and time went in to producing Crooked, and appreciate that many topics were covered, many interviews were conducted, and many treatments were attempted by the author.

In part 1, Ramin does an excellent job of examining the research on spine surgery, going into the business and politics of spine medicine. I fou
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: health
If you have chronic back pain, don't miss out on this book. The first half can be depressing, as the journalist author investigates the surgical side of back treatment. The second half, though, explores the many non-surgical, non-medicated treatments. ...more
Dennis Fishel
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
With a spine that's been plaguing me since I was eighteen--let's see, that's fifty-two years now--and nurturing a rock-solid refusal to allow anyone holding a sharp implement to get within a mile of my spinal cord, I decided to take a look at what Ms. Ramin might suggest. There's hope to be found in this book and some of her advice seems to have helped me in the pain vs. mobility department. What's demoralizing to me, though, is her confirmation of something I've suspected since medicine first b ...more
Yuriy Stasyuk
Jan 24, 2019 rated it liked it
I have been suffering with sciatica and a lumbar disc protrusion for almost a year (after a lifting accident?). This book came up in my feed, I downloaded it, and finishied it within days, due to my obsessive interest in my own condition.

It's strenght is the detailed investigation with which Ramin details conventional treatments for back pain. I learned in more detail about the fiscal motivation of much of hte back pain industry. There were plenty of examples of doctors, surgeons, and vendors w
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Ramin does a thorough job revealing the inadequacy and possible dangers of most back pain treatments that are seen as accepted practice these days. Readers will be appropriately warned off of going to chiropractors, having laser treatments, enduring serial spinal injections or giving into fusion surgery. The key to dealing with back pain seems to be a combination of intensive, targeted exercise (best prescribed by a highly skilled and well trained PT) and getting your fear of being debilitated b ...more
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is not the kind of book you typically find on my nightstand, but...spoiler alert...I have back pain. I read an interview with the author and bought it immediately. Let me first say that this book is extremely well-written--it's like one of those great New Yorker articles you find yourself reading aloud to anyone who will listen. If Atul Guwande and Mary Roach collaborated on a book about back pain, this would be it.

The author's an investigative reporter (with, you guessed it, back pain) who
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Cathryn Jakobson Ramin endured back pain for decades and in a quest to find relief spent 6 years looking into to back pain remedies. As an investigative journalist, she was the perfect candidate to delve into this growing problem in the U.S. Over $100 billion a year is spent in our country on relief from back pain. Unfortunately, many of the commonly prescribed procedures offer no relief for pain or are actually harmful, leaving the patient worse off than before the procedure. After reading this ...more
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book does an excellent job of chronicling why you should not get back surgery and the problems with going to a chiropractor and Ramin backs it up with research. Like another reviewer said though, the value of the book comes apart a bit during the treatment section during the last half. I absolutely agree with her that exercise based therapy which is tailored to the patient's individual needs is the only workable response to most back pain. But, the therapies she endorses are not available t ...more
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thank you for the opportunity to read your book, “Crooked, etc etc—title”

I loved your book; it is wonderful, thoroughly and brilliantly researched; a compelling and essential work. And, it is so easy---a beautiful read. You have really accomplished something. Congratulations.
Wow. I believe you have a winner, here.

I can't wait for the book's publication to buy a copy for my daughter Jessica, the Pilates Master who does experience back pain on occasion.

Howard Schatz, MD
Elaine Nelson
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fairly thorough look at issues around back pain, mostly through the lens of the author's experience. I do have something of a class critique, that I'm not quite sure how to formulate? It feels judgy when she moves outside of her own sphere of upper-middle-class professionals. But there are some specific things in part two that I might actually look into myself. (I've had pretty good results with the McKenzie method, FWIW.) ...more
Mari Aubuchon
Jun 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Check out Peter's review for this book. The "what doesn't work" half of the book is far better than the "what does work" half. I found little in the way of evidence-based recommendations, let alone ones that are available to me or most people I know. ...more
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ramin takes a critical look at chiropractors, physical therapists who don't actually teach people any exercises, doctors, and spinal surgeons, and extolls the virtues of exercise rehabilitation specialists, posture therapists, etc.

I'm so incredibly biased on this subject that I'm going to review this book from the perspective of my own experience, not to analyze the author's organization and research.

Reading this book was an affirmation to me as I found it to be largely spot-on when compared to
Sep 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
I have had back pain since 2010. Sometimes it doesn't hurt at all. Sometimes it hurts so much the thought of sitting in a movie theater with friends for two hours makes me feel panicked. I've had several of the treatments described in this book, and some of them have helped- for a while. And some of them haven't. And I think that's what I relate to most in this book: so many of the results from back pain treatment are inconclusive and costly.

Like all things, it's complicated. If you're in pain
Max Wei
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this is a terrific read - very detailed and comprehensive and providing an unmatched background and context for the back pain industry. The author Ms. Ramin is to be commended and tremendous appreciation to her for dedicating 6-7 years of her life sharing this very important story. It's a sad story and commentary on our health care system but does offer a modicum of hope in the final 3-4 chapters.

My two criticisms of the book are the following:
(1) it misses the key point of the mind bod
Nov 19, 2018 rated it liked it
I am certain that future generations will view our present-day methods of treating chronic pain (e.g., slicing people open and using power tools to carve out their spinal discs, etc.) the same way we view bloodletting — as an inefficacious and dangerous practice fed by arrogance, ignorance, and greed.

I’ve had my doubts about the pain treatment industry some time now, but this book pulled the pieces together into a solid narrative that really left me fuming, particularly at the spine surgery indu
Book Barmy (
Jan 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Yes, Crooked reveals the dark side of the (money making) back pain industry and spends a lot of time on what NOT to do. But happily, there's plenty of advice of what one can do and investigate.

Ms. Ramin reinforces that our sedentary lifestyles with too much sitting, heads constantly forward, and a c-curved spine causes deterioration of the spine, muscle loss, and resulting pain. Then I read (and re-read) the best chapter in the book -- The Back Whisperers. Turns out proper reconditioning with ex
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
When an investigative journalist turns her attention toward a malady she's been suffering through, chances are pretty good things will get interesting. This book does not disappoint. The first part of this book is a scathing indictment of various facets of our medical and insurance industries-- chiropractors, opioid pushers, spine surgeons, etc. The second part consists of various chapters devoted to practices that both avoid everything talked about in the first section, and have had some succes ...more
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