The effects of back pain on the quality of life can last long after a patient has recovered. According to a new study published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research under the American College of Rheumatology, one out of every five patients with back pain report persistent disability, pain, and use of health care.
Researchers from Krembil Research Institute in Toronto analyzed the data collected between 1994 to 2011 from 12,782 participants based in Canada. Researchers looked into the effects of back pain in the general population over time. Factors taken into account included co-existing health conditions, disability medication use, and others.
The participants involved in the study were interviewed by researchers once every two years. Researchers asked about their levels and frequency of pain, disability, drug use, visits to their physicians, and more.
Up to 45.6% of participants reported experiencing back pain at least once during the follow-up period. Among those participants, researchers identified four groups with 33.4% participants experiencing occasional back pain, 28.1% experiencing developing back pain, 20.5% in recovery, and 18% experiencing persistent back pain.
Those with persistent or developing back pain were found to experience more pain overall as well as greater disability, depression, and co-existing health conditions.
These group participants were also found to use more pain medication and to visit their doctors more frequently compared to those who experienced occasional back pain or had recovered. But those in the recovery group reported using increased doses of opioids over time.
“The good news is that one in five people with back pain recovered,” said Dr. Mayilee Canizares, lead author of the study. “However, they continued to use opioids and antidepressants, suggesting that people recovering from back pain need ongoing monitoring.”
“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,” Canizares added. “These two groups were associated with greater pain limiting activity, disability, and depression, as well as increased healthcare and medication use.”
Approximately 80% of adults will experience lower back pain at some point in their life, and 1.5 billion people suffer from chronic pain.
For those with chronic back pain, treating persistent symptoms can be tricky. Previous studies have shown that chronic pain doesn’t respond to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or Tylenol.
Because of this, chronic pain patients often end up turning to stronger medications like opioids to treat their pain. But even opioids have their limitations. Other studies have shown that opioids aren’t any more effective at treating pain than over-the-counter drugs.
This has led researchers in the multi-billion dollar industry of drug discovery on the track to developing a non-opioid painkiller that will hopefully reduce chronic pain.
But until the medication is developed, chronic pain patients will need to seek pain treatment elsewhere. For instance, 87% of patients view massage as beneficial for health and wellness. Other patients are using acupuncture or regular exercise.
Canizares and her team of researchers recommend that doctors prescribe more personalized treatments for back pain instead of offering a general approach to every patient. Recent research has also encouraged prescription therapies that rely less on drugs.
“The distinct groups identifies in our present study may represent opportunities for more individualized treatment and preventative strategies,” said Canizares.