Prompt back pain treatment can help avoid future health problems

Apr 25 2011
By some estimates, as many as 80 percent of Americans suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. While many people - especially busy parents or professionals who are constantly on the go - may be inclined to dismiss the problem as not serious enough to warrant medical attention, doctors are adamant that therapy is necessary. In fact, this type of pain - if left untreated - can become chronic and seriously interfere with a person's quality of life. 

In order to measure the impact of delayed back pain treatment, Swedish scientist Lena Nordeman enrolled 60 individuals who had lower back pain for three to 12 weeks. After receiving a medical evaluation, some of the patients were directed to start physiotherapy within 48 hours, and the rest were put on a four-week waiting list.

Nordeman, who conducted the research as part of her thesis at the University of Gothenburg, found that the participants who underwent prompt treatment maintained their results at the six-month follow-up. However, the group who delayed treatment was more likely to experience recurrence of pain, even though their symptoms also improved after the initial round of physiotherapy.

The results point to benefits of prompt treatment, not just from a medical standpoint, but also in terms of economic and societal costs. Individuals whose back pain has become chronic are more likely to take time off from work for repeated physiotherapy or spine surgery. Moreover, persistent pain reduces the quality of life, causing people to forgo their favorite activities or exercise, which may result in depression and further disability.

Of course, prevention is always the best approach. Experts recommend frequent back exercises, especially stretching and core muscle straightening, to prevent posture-related complications. Moreover, individuals who carry heavy loads - such as parents of toddlers and small children - should practice proper lifting techniques. These include bending at the knees or squatting down and lifting with the legs, as opposed to bending down.