Is Your Lifestyle Causing You Pain?


Daniel Steffens of The George Institute for Global Health and The University of Sydney, reveals the myriad of unconscious lifestyle habits that could be causing you pain.

Low back pain is an extremely common health problem that affects a large part of the population during their lifetime. 

On any day roughly 10% of the population suffer from low back pain; over a one month period one quarter of us will be affected.

Back pain is more common in women and in middle to older age groups. 

Although low back pain is not a life threatening condition, it is the leading cause of activity limitation and work absence throughout the world, and it causes an enormous economic burden on individuals, families, communities, industry and governments.

Low back pain may originate from many different parts of the lower back , including bones, intervertebral discs, ligaments, muscles, neural structures and blood vessels.

However, the exact source of low back pain is often difficult to identify using conventional tests available in the day-to-day health care.

Research into risk factors for low back pain is often challenging due to significant differences across research methods, case definitions and study populations.

It has been shown that there are a number of environmental and individual factors that influence the onset and course of low back pain.

In a recent study, researchers from the The George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney have investigated the increase in risk of an episode of sudden onset, acute low back pain associated with short time exposure to a range of physical and psychosocial factors.

A total of 999 patients with a new episode of acute low back pain were recruited from 300 physiotherapy, chiropractic and general practitioner clinics in Sydney.

Participants were interviewed in the first week their pain episode occurred in and were asked to describe their physical and psychosocial activities in the 3 days preceding pain onset.

The study found that mornings (7am to 12pm) were the most frequent time of day for back pain onset.

Furthermore, the study demonstrated for the first time that even a brief exposure to a range of physical factors, like manual tasks involving awkward postures, or manual tasks involving an object that could not be positioned close to the body as well as psychosocial factors like being distracted during a task or fatigued, can considerably increase the risk of an episode of low back pain.

The study also found that age was a factor in triggering low back pain when lifting heavy loads, with younger people being significantly more likely to suffer an episode of acute low back pain after such activity than older people.

The risk factors associated with the onset of low back pain found in this study, such as manual tasks involving heavy loads, could be completely avoided by redesigning the work place so workers are no longer required to lift heavy loads. Exposure to other risk factors could be reduced by education and training of the general population and workers.

These findings support the development of new prevention programs and strategies to reduce the burden from this common and disabling condition. 

Reference: “What Tiggers an Episode of Acute Low Back Pain? A case-crossover study.” Daniel Steffens, Manuela L Ferreira, Jane Latimer, Paulo H Ferreira, Bart W Koes, Fiona Blyth, Qiang Li, Christopher G Maher. Arthritis Care and Research; Published Online: February 9, 2015 (DOI: 10.1002/acr.22533).

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
Inga Yandell

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