How Back Pain Affects People Over Time

Category: Back Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi


Back pain is the most frequently reported health condition in the world, and estimates suggest that more than 90 percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their life. So while back pain is a very common condition, how does it affect patients on a long term scale? A recent study published in Arthritis Care & Research took a look at just that.

For the study, researchers in Canada conducted a long-term study on a large portion of participants to see how back pain affected them over time. More than 12,700 individuals with back pain took place in the study that ran from 1994 to 2011. Patients were interviewed every two years on factors like their back pain, their disability, opioid use and healthcare visits. At the end of the study, the patients were grouped into four sections:

  • Those who developed persistent back pain (18 percent)
  • Those whose pain worsened throughout the study (28.1 percent)
  • Those whose back pain resolved during the study (20.5 percent)
  • Those who described their back pain as occasional (33.4 percent)

Study Results

After looking at the results, researchers were able to come up with some conclusions about how back pain affected individuals over a 16-year period. They found that individuals in the persistent and worsening groups had more pain and disability, as well as more healthcare visits and opioid use than those in the other groups. Those who recovered also increased their opioid and antidepressant use over time.

“The good news is that one in five people with back pain recovered; however, they continued to use opioids and antidepressants, suggesting that people recovering from back pain need ongoing monitoring,” said study lead author Dr. Mayilee Canizares. “The bad news was that one in five experienced persistent back pain, with an additional group – almost one in three – who developed back pain over time. These two groups were associated with greater pain limiting activity, disability, and depression, as well as increased healthcare and medication use.”

Study authors concluded that the best way to treat back pain is with a comprehensive approach, and that what works for one person might not work for another. The key is to keep actively treating back pain, either with physical therapy, stretching techniques, exercise routines, swimming or another active treatment suggested by your physician. Opioids and antidepressants can play a key role in a comprehensive management plan, but they shouldn’t be your only treatment.

The study would have been a lot more interesting if they would have collected more information on the treatment techniques that were pursued by individuals in the recovery group. Again, what works for some will not work for others, but we’re willing to bet they pursued more active treatments than those whose pain got worse. At a minimum, active treatments tend to stabilize pain, so while it may not resolve, it usually doesn’t worsen.

If you or someone you know is battling back pain, make sure you are proactive in your treatment and you seek out a consultation with a spine specialist if you can’t seem to get a handle on your pain. Dr. Sinicropi can help, and you can get in contact with him by calling (651) 430-3800.

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