So how big is the problem of Back Pain in the UK?
- It is estimated that in the UK approximately 2.6 million people seek advice from their GP each year on back pain
- One year after the first episode of back pain it is estimated that 62% will still have pain
- Most people symptoms improve in the first 3 months, but after this there is little improvement in symptoms
- It is estimated that 84% of people will suffer from back pain at some point in their life
- The most current data available came from 1998 and estimated that the cost to the NHS of treating all back pain was more than £1000 million per year, and for low back pain was in excess of £500 million per year. A further £623 million was related to services provided by the private sector
- In 2013 it is estimated that 31 million working days were lost to back, neck and muscle problems costing the UK economy £14 billion per year.
So what is Chronic Back Pain?
Chronic back pain is defined as pain lasting for more than 6 weeks duration. It does not include back pain caused by ongoing malignancy or infection but is referring to musculoskeletal back pain.
Chronic back pain include pain that is described as a persistent ache anywhere in the spine. It is associated with stiffness, soreness and inflammation and may range from mild to severe or a dull ache to a sharp pain.
It is not always possible to identify the cause of back pain, though in some cases it can be attributed to a direct injury to a disc or an accident.
Lifestyle choices can have a big impact on chronic back pain.
Risk factors include the following:
- Being overweight
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Occupation (especially those that require lifting/twisting or excessive sitting)
What can You do about it?
In the UK we are experts at “making do” and “getting on with it”. Many of the people I work with have often suffered in silence for years even decades before seeking help or taking action.
I would always recommend seeking advice of a qualified health care practitioner who in an expert in the spine, as not only can they give you advice they can also rule out more sinister causes of back pain such as malignancy.
So the first obvious thing you can do is look at your risk factors and reduce them as much as you can. I find the two easiest ones you can start with are levels of activity and looking at your posture.
Stay Active / Get Active: This is one of the most important things to do, not only for your spinal health but for your overall health. If you don’t already walk on a regular basis it’s a great place to start. There are numerous apps available that allow you to monitor your activity and share it with friends (if that motivates you) such as MapMyWalk. A starting point can simply be taking the stairs not the lift at work. You know what your current levels are. How can you improve on that?
I personally think that yoga and/or pilates are also great ways of helping yourself to improve your spinal strength and flexibility. I have found that it is less about the technique and more about finding the right teacher for you. So I suggest you try several classes and even private sessions until you find someone that resonates with your needs.
Improve your Posture
Over time poor posture can distort the natural alignment of your spine. In our technology driven world, many of us are stooped over computers or smart phones for hours each day. I’ve yet to find a UK app that I rate, but the StraightenUpCanada app produced by the Canadian Chiropractic Association provides simple stretches that can help you to focus on your posture and relieve aches and pain.
Long Term Solutions
For some people resolving and managing back pain is not something they can do on their own. If pain relief is your only concern, medication is probably the answer. But if you want to get to the root of the problem and change, talk to your local chiropractor who will have spent a minimum of 4 years studying in depth how the spine works and what to do when it goes wrong.
Arthritis Research Campaign. Arthritis the big picture. Arthritis Research Campaign. 2002
Hestbaek L, Leboeuf-Yde C, Manniche C. Low back pain: what is the long-term course? A review of studies of general patient populations. Eur Spine J. 2003;12(2):149–165
Pengel LH, Herbert RD, Maher CG, Refshauge KM. Acute low back pain: systematic review of its prognosis. BMJ. 2003;327(7410):323