Advice for 5 million Aussies suffering with back pain - what's good for the heart is good for the back!

According to a new study by Australian researchers as many as 5 million Australians have recurring back problems.

The researchers at the George Institute for International Health have also found that after one bout of back problems one in four people will experience a recurrence within one year.

Professor Chris Maher, the lead author of the study says at any one time 25% of the population suffers from back pain and the medical profession, while they are good at treating back pain need to focus more on preventing it from returning.

Low back pain is the most prevalent and costly musculoskeletal condition in Australia, estimated to cost up to $1 billion per annum with indirect costs exceeding $8 billion - and is also the most common health condition causing older Australians to be absent from the labour force.

According to Professor Maher, the Director of Musculoskeletal Research at the Institute, patients and doctors need to shift their focus to prevention - he says there is a tendency to treat the pain when it's there, but following recovery, patients rarely take any action to prevent the problem from returning.

Professor Maher says while most people get the message about lifting correctly, heavy lifting is only one of the risk factors for developing back pain and the other risk factors for back pain are also the risk factors for other chronic diseases such as heart disease.

Professor Maher advises people to adopt a similar approach to back health, as they do for heart health - eat healthily and exercise as a healthy lifestyle is good for the heart and is also good for the spine.

Maher says research has shown an exercise program after the original episode of low back pain is highly effective in preventing a recurrence, and strengthening muscles and developing fitness helps to avoid recurring back pain.

It has also been found that mental stress exacerbates the risk of back pain and Professor Maher says including stress management in a health promotion approach would be a sensible way to reduce the chances of back pain.

He believes just focussing on lifting correctly is probably not enough, and says a holistic approach is really the best one.

The George researchers reviewed 353 patients who had recovered from their initial back pain within six weeks, who had undergone a range of treatments from general practitioners, physiotherapists and chiropractors - they were followed over one year and contacted at six weeks, three months and 12 months.


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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