Why do we endure lower back pain without taking action?

Let’s start with the numbers: Approximately 1 in 6 Australians grapple with back issues, and a striking 4 out of 5 individuals have experienced lower back pain at some point in their lives.

On any given day, our pharmacists and assistants engage in a minimum of 10 discussions with patients who casually mention their struggle with lower back pain. These are people of all ages and lifestyles – young mums, tradies, office-going millennials, retired folk, and more. What’s concerning is that many of them have come to accept it as a permanent aspect of their lives. It is not inevitable, even if that sometimes feels like the case.

Lower back pain (LBP) stands as the foremost cause of disability globally, impacting more than 600 million people worldwide. New research published in June 2023 found that if society could directly address three major risk factors – obesity, smoking and workplace ergonomic factors – it could cut the burden of low back pain by 39%.

Top risk factors for both sexes combined, 2019. Source.

The usual suspects

Risk factor #1 – Smoking is a well-known risk factor for various health issues, and it turns out that low back pain is no exception. The study indicates that smokers are at a significantly higher risk of developing chronic low back pain than non-smokers. Smoking can contribute to reduced blood flow, impairing the body’s ability to deliver essential nutrients to the spine. Moreover, smoking can lead to degenerative disc disease, which is a common cause of low back pain.

Risk factor #2 – Obesity is another major risk factor for low back pain. As per data, obesity is strongly associated with the development of LBP. The excess weight places additional stress on the spine and its supporting structures, leading to increased wear and tear. This can result in chronic pain and discomfort, reducing one’s overall mobility.

Risk factor #3 – The workplace plays a crucial role in the development of low back pain. Poor workplace ergonomics, such as incorrect posture, inadequate lumbar support, and prolonged sitting, can contribute to the onset of LBP.  Many people often spend 8 hours (sometimes more) of their day working at a desk. It’s essential for employers to invest in ergonomic furniture and promote regular breaks and exercises to mitigate the risk of LBP among their employees.

What does proper care for lower back pain look like?

Preventative care of the lower back can be quite simple if you prioritise a healthy lifestyle. This means getting good sleep, eating well, staying active, and being aware of the above-mentioned risk factors.

The way we approach lower back pain has changed. Now, the focus is on addressing both the physical and emotional aspects of pain. This includes educating patients, helping them manage their pain themselves, and encouraging physical activity.

We’ve also learned that things like imaging, pain medications, bed rest, and surgery are not all that effective for most people with lower back pain. Instead, for those who don’t respond well to basic care, or for those at risk of not responding, clinicians recommend physical and psychological therapies that target the specific barriers to recovery.

It goes beyond physical rehabilitation

A study published in The BMJ sheds more light on the most effective psychological interventions for people with chronic low back pain, defined as pain that lasts more than 12 weeks.

In that study, the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health combined and analysed evidence from almost 100 trials worldwide involving over 13,000 patients.

Lead author PhD candidate Emma Ho said “It is well known that adults with chronic low back pain not only experience physical disability, but often also suffer psychological distress in the form of anxiety, depression or fear of pain from movement.”

Overall, the researchers found that compared with physiotherapy care alone, physiotherapy (mainly structured exercise) delivered with psychological interventions was more effective in improving physical function and pain intensity.

Compared with physiotherapy care by itself, the results show that both cognitive behavioural therapy and pain education delivered with physiotherapy care led to clinically important improvements in physical function up to two months after treatment.

Ask for assistance

In conclusion, if you’re grappling with the challenges of lower back pain, remember effective help is available. It’s crucial not to suffer in silence, as the path to relief often starts with a simple step: reaching out for help.

Take the initiative to consult a healthcare professional who specialises in managing lower back pain. They can provide a tailored approach to address your specific needs, which may include physical therapy, lifestyle adjustments, or other evidence-based treatments.

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

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