Predicting Chronic Back Pain

Older Gentleman Suffering Lower Back Pain

As we age our bodies fail to provide as much protection for bones – joints and vertebrae, which often leads to chronic back pain when not addressed early.


As if back pain wasn’t depressing enough, a new study published in the August 2013 issue of The Journal of Pain warns that people suffering from severe, short-term low back pain are at increased risk for long-term pain and disability. The data comes from research conducted at Arthritis Research U.K. Primary Care Center who sent questionnaires every six months for five years to 488 people who were treated for low back pain.

The findings validate earlier research that indicated initial low back pain intensity is a key predictor of future pain and disability, but this study is the first to make a correlation over a long period of time. Researchers say their findings affirm the importance of early intervention in the early treatment of low back pain.

Back pain is a near universal malady that most adults experience at some point in their lives. Americans spend approximately $50 billion each year on low back pain, the most common cause of job-related disability and the second most common neurological ailment in the United States behind headaches.

In the majority of cases, lower back pain will resolve itself within a matter of days. But for the unfortunate rest, it can take longer to go away or can lead to a chronic condition. Most acute, or short-term, low back pain lasts up to a few weeks and tends to be mechanical in nature, caused by a specific trauma such as a sports injury or car accident, or a condition such as arthritis. Symptoms go from mild muscle aches to severe shooting pain; limited flexibility; and even an inability to stand straight. Some acute pain syndromes can become more serious if left untreated.

Pain that persists for more than three months is considered chronic. It is frequently progressive and diagnosing a specific cause sometimes proves elusive. Part of that is the nature of the spine which is a complex structure comprised of more than 30 bones called vertebrae, muscles, and nerves. The spinal cord goes from the base of the brain to below the rib cage. Ligaments and tendons hold the vertebrae in place and attach the muscles to the spinal column.

As humans get older they lose bone strength and muscle elasticity and the spinal discs start losing flexibility, which makes them less able to cushion the vertebrae, making people more susceptible to injury or strain. Obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, poor posture, and sleeping positions can all lead to or exacerbate back pain.

Low back pain may also indicate a more serious medical problem so it is important to have back pain checked out right when it happens to help prevent permanent damage and to determine if there is any other condition that needs to be treated.

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