Back to basics

A global research study has concluded that lower back pain is the leading cause of disability and work absence across much of the globe.  Researchers from institutions in Australia, the US and the UK including the Royal Cornwall Hospital found that whilst there is no evidence linking back pain with a higher risk of early death, it can cause long term disability.

Across the world the study estimates that nearly 1 in 10 suffer from lower back pain with the figure rising to 15% in Europe.  An increasingly aging population is only going to exacerbate the issue which can cause emotional and financial as well as health problems for sufferers.

Although lower back pain has no one common trigger point, typically causes include poor posture when sitting or standing, bending awkwardly or failing to follow lifting guidelines.  Acute back pain can also cause leg pain which adds to the difficulty of moving and walking.  In its extreme form it can also impact on everyday tasks such as washing or dressing.

With the incidence of lower back pain expected to increase alongside an ever-aging population this condition places a strain on all health professionals.  Whilst doctors and health visitors are more likely to be in the front line, others such as physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors will all take up the burden of day to day treatment.  Maximising patient time and minimising administrative burdens will therefore form an essential part of the way forward in treating this debilitating condition.

For the health professional this will require a switch to “always on” technology which will help patients to book appointments and stay in touch without taking up clinical time.  This includes taking steps to ensure phones are covered by internal or external support staff, appointment booking online and automatic appointment reminders.  These simple steps can make a huge difference both to treatment times and to ease the strain on overworked health professionals.

In its review of the study, the NHS Choices website concludes that it may be a cliché to say that doctors don’t understand the back but it acknowledges that lower back pain is a “poorly understood condition.” The site therefore calls for further research into the ways in which back pain can better be prevented and managed.  Pending the outcome of such research it will fall on health professionals to take steps to manage their back pain management in the most effective way possible.