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A pain in the back….

There’s no escaping back pain. A sore back can not only affect neck and limbs as attempts to get comfy result in collateral pain elsewhere, it can also lead to headaches and depression as painful movement hampers and frustrates efforts to get on with daily life.

In the past treatments for back pain were largely along the lines of taking to bed with a few painkillers in the hope that the pain would ease. Nowadays the thinking is very much more along the lines of staying active; with the NHS choices website recommending a series of stretching exercises alongside gentle activities such as walking, cycling or water-based activities.

As with any other pain the temptation for those suffering from a bad back has still been to head for the pill box in a bid to feel more comfortable. However, a peer review has thrown up questions about the efficacy of taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for back pain. The review concluded that taking NSAIDs was little better than taking a placebo with only one in six patients receiving any benefit from NSAID treatment. In addition, those patients who took the anti-inflammatory drugs were at a higher risk of gastrointestinal upset; perhaps the last thing which someone would want when already suffering from back pain!

The researchers concluded that there was an urgent need to develop analgesics which were more effective in treating back pain. However it would appear that more research is required as the peer review did not examine the efficacy or otherwise of exercise or direct interventions such as physiotherapy or chiropractic treatments. Certainly these are options to consider when looking to treat back pain as musculoskeletal professionals may be able to identify the root cause and suggest changes to posture or lifestyle which may help to speed up treatment and prevent re-occurrence.

Within the workplace too occupational therapists may also be able to suggest the best way for using equipment, or even sitting at a desk, which will optimise back health. For employers this is one area which should not be ignored as statistics from the health and safety executive indicate that in 2015/16 an estimated 8.8 million working days were lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

Work-related or not there is no doubt that back pain is something we can all do without, putting a strain not only on individuals and their families but also the health service as a whole. It’s one reason why health professionals are increasingly looking to find remedies which will help to relieve the strain on their own practices and maximise treatment times. For some, gentle remedies such as instituting online booking forms allied to automated appointment reminders have proved effective. Others have resorted to more intensive measures such as appointing virtual assistants or electronically filing patient records in a bid to reduce the strain on resources.

Whatever the remedy chosen, the more that health professionals are able to focus on working with patients to identify and treat the causes of back pain, the better it is not only for individuals but the country as a whole. With the study largely ruling NSAIDs out of the picture, the more we can focus on developing effective treatments, the quicker people will be able to get back to a pain-free lifestyle.



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