Back Pain is Poorly Understood and Increasingly Mismanaged

It's highly likely that you, or someone you know, suffers from back pain. That's because lower back pain is extremely common. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Estimates from the ABS suggest one in six Australians currently have back problems, and that a whopping 70–90 percent of people will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives.

And now, a new study from Australian and international researchers suggests that the use of X-rays, scans, opioids injections, and surgeries to treat the condition are not only ineffective, but can also be harmful. The researchers warn that back pain has become a major health burden globally, and that the treatment of it needs a drastic rehaul before we reach tipping point.

“The burden from low back pain has reached a tipping point where the condition is growing rapidly, is poorly understood and is being mismanaged medically – at a cost both to the patient and to the healthcare system. Low and middle-income countries are already emulating the low-value care that is endemic in high-income countries," say researchers.

In Australia, back pains and other musculoskeletal conditions are the most common injury type across all industries. This is primarly due to improper manual handling techniques, with one in three injuries to Australian workers caused by manual handling. In regards to lower back pain, the injuries may happen suddenly as a result of a single event, or the symptoms can reveal slowly over time.

“We don’t think about [back pain] the same way as cancer or heart attacks. But if you look at disability it causes, especially in middle- and low-income where there isn’t a safety net, it impacts half a billion people. For chronic back pain, ineffective therapies are used way too often, and things that are shown to work are significantly underused.”

So what is the solution? For most people with back pain, new wave thinking recommends staying active, using cognitive behavioural therapy and techniques like focused breathing and regular exercise. But due to a lack of awareness among both the general public and GPs, doctors are more likely to suggest rest, decreased physical activity and treatments such as surgery or injections.

You can access the complete study here.

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