Back pain affects about 700 million people and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Now, a new study shows that it is not just uncomfortable and debilitating, but also a potential indicator of early death.
Examining the health and death records of 4,390 older Danish twins, a team of researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia found that those who reported lower back pain had a substantially greater chance of dying sooner than their peers.
Risk Of Impending Death
The team accessed the data from the twin subjects and looked at the link between the presence of back pain and mortality rates. They discovered that people with symptoms of back and neck pain had a 13 percent greater chance of dying than those without any symptom in their spine.
Physiotherapy researcher and senior study author Dr. Paulo Ferreira deemed the finding significant, as back pain is typically not considered life-threatening.
"As this study was done in twins, the influence of shared genetic factors is unlikely because it was controlled for in our analysis,” he explained in a statement.
And not unlike compound interest, the 13 percent chance only increases each year. For Ferreira, the pain could be part of a whole pattern of poor health functional ability, upping the risk of death in the older population.
Ferreira then emphasized the value of staying healthy and fit, amid growing evidence that surgery and medications are largely ineffective for treatment. People who exercise more, he cited as an example, will have less chances of suffering from back pain.
“Even if you develop back pain and you are physically active, your prognosis is going to be much better as well, compared to those who just decide to stay at home and lie in bed,” he said.
The new research follows previous research revealing that depressed individuals are 60 percent more likely to have low back pain in their lifetime.
In Australia, an approximate 4 million suffer from some type of back pain, and the condition costs the Australian economy $1 billion annually in treatments alone.
The findings were discussed in the European Journal of Pain.
This isn’t the first research to point to a seemingly non-deadly condition in the elderly as a potential sign of early death. Previous research showed that elderly women breaking their hips are at a heightened risk of dying within a year of their injury. Most studies pointed to underlying poor health leading to the injury, not the injury leading to early mortality.
Natural Therapies For Back Pain
In the United States, lower back pain remains one of the most common reasons behind doctor visits.
Just recently, the American College of Physicians released new recommendations for back pain treatment, advising non-drug options such as Tai chi, yoga, acupuncture, and mindfulness meditation before one tries to take prescription or over-the-counter pain medications.
A national Consumer Reports survey also disclosed that many back pain patients found that alternative therapies worked for their back pain.
In the survey covering 3,562 patients, almost 90 percent who tried yoga or Tai chi said the techniques helped, while 84 and 83 percent found the same effects in massage and chiropractic.