Significant differences between men and women when it comes to identifying the cause of back pain

A new survey of physicians who regularly treat back pain, the second most common reason people visit a doctor, reveals that there are significant differences between men and women when it comes to identifying the causes of their discomfort.

Nearly half (47 percent) of the 200 primary care physicians who participated in the FLEXERIL® 5 mg SPASM (Survey of Physicians About Sufferers of Musculoskeletal Pain) survey, report that the majority of male patients with acute back pain attribute their symptoms to a job related injury. In contrast, more than one-third (37 percent) of doctors say women most often complain of back pain associated with activities around the home, such as housework, gardening or childcare.

"The source of acute low back pain is not always clear, but the majority of episodes result in muscle spasm," said Gerard Malanga, M.D., director of Sports, Spine and Orthopedic Rehabilitation, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, New Jersey. "The good news, however, is that with the appropriate treatment, nearly 90 percent of patients will fully recover in about two months."

On average, 58 percent of physicians say they treat their patients with acute back pain by prescribing a muscle relaxant, such as FLEXERIL® (cyclobenzaprine HCl) 5 mg, at some point in their therapy. More than half of the responding physicians (52 percent) believe that patients who take a muscle relaxant return to normal activities sooner than those who do not take one. Three in four physicians surveyed believe patients expect to resume normal activity within six days of beginning treatment, although the doctors expect it will take about seven-13 days.

"Rest periods longer than two days have not been shown to be effective, and can actually slow recovery from back pain," said Dr. Malanga. "The sooner a back pain sufferer obtains relief, the sooner normal activity can be resumed."

Doctors also report that men complain of exercise and sports-related back pain injuries more often than women, and the two genders identify different activities as the source of their discomfort. By far, physicians cite weight lifting (46 percent) as the most common exercise-related cause of acute back pain for men, followed by golf (18 percent), basketball (10 percent) and football (nine percent). More than one-third (37 percent) of physicians say their female patients identify running as the most common exercise related cause of their back pain, followed by tennis (15 percent) and weight lifting (14 percent).

Other findings from the SPASM survey reveal:

  • Physicians say that 81 percent of patients describe their level of acute back pain or spasm as moderate to severe. In addition, 74 percent report that patients say the pain interferes with or limits normal daily activity such as work, school or leisure at least "most of the time."
  • On average, physicians see one-third (36 percent) of their back pain patients four or more times a year and four in 10 back pain patients (40 percent) between one and three times annually.
  • Most patients tend to wait less than a week after first experiencing pain or discomfort before seeing a doctor. Men are not any more or less likely than women to postpone seeking treatment, but 31 percent of physicians agree that most acute back pain sufferers wait too long before seeing a doctor.
  • Most physicians (83 percent) agree that patients with acute back pain should stay active while undergoing treatment, instead of staying in bed.
  • Virtually all physicians (95 percent) refer at least some of their acute back pain patients to specialists, and half of those (49 percent) refer to a physical therapist "always" or "most" of the time. Orthopedic surgeons are the second most likely specialty to be used for referrals.
  • On average, physicians expect that acute back pain symptoms will resolve completely for the majority (58 percent) of their acute back pain patients.

About the Survey

The FLEXERIL® 5 mg SPASM (Survey of Physicians About Sufferers of Musculoskeletal Pain) survey was conducted within the United States by Harris Interactive® April 2004 for McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, marketers of FLEXERIL® (cyclobenzaprine HCl) 5 mg. The survey was designed to comply with the code and standards of the Council of American Survey Research Organizations and the Code of the National Council of Public Polls. To access the executive summary, visit


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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