Back pain is the leading cause of disability globally, and it may shorten your life.
A new study by researchers from the University of Sydney has found that those with back pain have a 13 per cent higher chance of dying prematurely.
Back pain: there are big costs. Photo: Ivan Ivanov
In the study, published in the European Journal of Pain, researchers looked at the prevalence of back pain (generic lower back pain or "acute" back pain) among 4390 Danish twins aged between 70 and 102. They then compared these statistics with the death registry.
"Older people reporting spinal pain have a 13 per cent increased risk of mortality per year lived but the connection is not causal," the paper's authors concluded.
Senior researcher Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira of the University's Faculty of Health Sciences was not surprised by the findings. "Back pain has some important consequences later in life and people are not aware of this," he said.
As for the fact that the findings were not causal, Ferreira said that although "there was not an independent association" back pain tends to create a domino effect that negatively impacts our health and increases our likelihood of premature death.
"It's a whole cascade of events," Ferreira said. "People get more depressed, don't socialise as much, don't walk as much – these are all factors associated with mortality."
He adds that back pain and poor sleep quality are also strongly linked, which can also affect health.
Given how common back pain is, Ferreira says it is important people are not scared by the findings. "I don't want people to panic and think I've got back pain so now I'm going to die faster," he told Fairfax Media.
More, he says the research highlights the importance of addressing back pain and acting to nip it in the bud.
"It's more preventable than other things," he says, adding: "We're getting away from the traditional way of dealing with back pain and giving people pills."
Indeed, separate new research found that drugs for back pain do more harm than good, while earlier research found that paracetamol is ineffective and opioids are on par with placebos.
"It's about time for us to change the way we talk about back pain," Ferreira said.
"The modern approach to dealing with back pain is supporting and helping people to become more physically active to improve mood and socialise more."
Research has shown that relaxation exercises and meditation can also help as stress exacerbates the symptoms.
"It's not that it's 'in your head', it's literally magnified in your cortex at the moment, so anything we can do to calm that down will reduce your symptoms – because we know if you're in a stress response you're in more pain," Sydney physiotherapist Nick Torrance explained.
Ferreira adds that he hopes this research will help to put back pain in the spotlight.
"This is an important issue. It is simple but it does have serious consequences. In contrast with other health areas musculoskeletal pain doesn't get the level of attention or funding," he said.
"If you do have back pain, you should seek help to control your symptoms and not stop doing the right things for your body and your mind.
"In a nutshell, the most effective way of preventing back pain is physical activity. But the right type of physical activity ... We have some evidence that moderate to vigorous leisure exercise helps to prevent back pain – a good walking program, strength exercises under supervision and improving your sleep patterns."
24 February 2017
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald