A new study from Boston Medical Center has found that women who experience back pain have an elevated mortality risk compared to women without back pain. Back pain was not associated with mortality among men, indicating that the results may differ by sex.
The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, raises the question of whether better treatment of back pain and disability may extend life. This is the first review of the association between back pain and mortality, which was followed by a meta-analysis of all-cause mortality in 11 studies with 81,337 middle-aged and older adults.
Back pain and mortality were identified through the study, including limitations of reduced physical activity and activities of daily living. These limitations may lead to weight gain and the increased risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
Back pain has also been associated with poor balance and falls. This can result in fragility fractures and broken bones, which have previously been linked to increased mortality.
Treatments for Back Pain
Doctors recommended non-pharmacologic treatments recommended for back pain, including acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, and physical therapy. Previous research has shown that these treatments are effective for managing back pain. These treatments are safer than others with potentially serious side effects, such as opioids for pain management.
“I hope this study will lead to a better understanding of the long-term impacts of activity-limiting back pain on overall health and research to improve back pain treatment over the course of patients’ lives,” says Eric Roseen, DC, MSc. “Proper management of back pain is important, especially as the opioid epidemic has been exacerbated and the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people seeking medical care, stress-levels and the environments in which many Americans are working right now.”
Age did not appear to affect the association between back pain and mortality. Researchers say this was an unexpected result, considering past research found the impact of back pain on disability can increase with age.
Mild back pain is unlikely to impact someone’s life, but the risk of mortality was found in those with severe chronic back pain. Those who suffer from this type of pain need to seek non-pharmaceutical therapies to reduce their chance of overall mortality later in life.
With more American’s dying in the past year of opioid overdose compared to any other year, health care providers must focus on alternative treatments for back pain. Low back pain is one of the most common conditions for which opioids are prescribed. With non-pharmaceutical treatments prescribed instead of opioids, it would mean a safer approach to treatment.