How Common is Back Pain in Australia?
Back pain is a common health issue globally, and Australia is no exception. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), back problems are prevalent in the country. Here are some key findings from the ABS National Health Survey 2017-18:
Back problems were reported by about 16% of Australians (or 3.7 million people) in 2017-18.
Age and Gender
Back problems become more familiar with age. In that survey, they were reported by 7% of people aged 18-24 and 27% of people aged 65 and over. Women were more likely than men to report back problems.
Impact on Daily Life
Back problems can significantly impact daily life. Of those reporting back problems, 71% reported limitations in daily activities, with 37% experiencing restrictions in employment or education.
A considerable number of Australians sought healthcare for their back problems. About 59% of people with back problems consulted a health professional, such as a general practitioner, physiotherapist, or chiropractor.
It’s important to note that back pain can have various causes, including muscle strain, poor posture, injury, or underlying medical conditions. Lifestyle factors, such as physical activity, weight management, and ergonomic practices, can play a role in preventing or managing back pain.
If you are experiencing persistent or severe back pain, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation and appropriate management. They can help determine the specific cause of the pain and recommend suitable treatments, which may include physical therapy, pain management strategies, or other interventions.
What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain can have various causes and is often a complex interplay of factors. Here are some common contributors to back pain:
Muscle or Ligament Strain
Overuse or improper use of muscles and ligaments, such as lifting heavy objects or sudden movements, can lead to strains. Poor posture can contribute to muscle imbalances and strain, especially when sitting or standing for extended periods.
Conditions affecting the spine’s structure, such as herniated discs, bulging discs, or degenerative disc disease, can cause back pain.
Osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis can affect the spine, leading to pain and stiffness.
Weakening of the bones due to osteoporosis can result in compression fractures in the spine, causing pain.
Trauma or Injury
Accidents, falls, or injuries can damage the spine, causing acute or chronic pain.
Conditions like sciatica, where the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated, can cause radiating pain down the leg.
Infections and Tumors
Infections of the spine or the presence of tumours can lead to back pain.
Poor Muscle Tone
Weak abdominal or back muscles may not provide adequate support to the spine, leading to pain.
Lack of exercise, sedentary behaviour, and obesity can contribute to back pain.
Smoking has been associated with an increased risk of back pain, possibly due to reduced blood flow to the spine.
Stress, anxiety, and depression can contribute to or exacerbate back pain.
Jobs that involve heavy lifting, repetitive movements, or prolonged sitting may increase the risk of back pain.
Certain medical conditions, such as kidney stones or endometriosis, can cause back pain.
It’s important to note that identifying the specific cause of back pain can sometimes be challenging, as multiple factors may be involved. If you are experiencing persistent or severe back pain, it’s advisable to seek medical attention. A healthcare professional can conduct a thorough evaluation, including a medical history, physical examination, and, if necessary, imaging studies to determine the cause of the pain and recommend appropriate treatment.
How to Treat Back Pain
Back pain treatment depends on its underlying cause and whether it is acute or chronic. Here are some general strategies and recommendations that may help alleviate or manage back pain:
Self-Care and Lifestyle Changes
- Rest: Short-term rest may be necessary for acute injuries, but prolonged bed rest is generally not recommended. Stay as active as possible without exacerbating pain.
- Maintain Good Posture: Practice good posture, whether sitting, standing, or lifting. Use ergonomically designed furniture and tools when possible.
- Regular Exercise: Engage in regular, low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or biking to strengthen the muscles that support the spine.
Weight Management: Maintain a healthy weight to reduce the load on your spine.
A physical therapist can provide exercises and stretches to improve flexibility, strength, and posture. They may also use techniques like massage or manipulation.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help reduce pain and inflammation. Always use these medications according to the recommended dosage and guidelines.
Heat and Cold Therapy
Applying heat or cold to the affected area can provide relief. Cold packs can help reduce inflammation, while heat packs can relax muscles.
For more severe pain, a healthcare professional may prescribe stronger medications, such as muscle relaxants or prescription-strength NSAIDs.
In some cases, corticosteroids or local anesthetics injections may be recommended to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
Techniques like acupuncture, chiropractic care, or massage therapy may offer relief for some individuals. Consult with a healthcare professional before trying alternative therapies.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT can help address the psychological aspects of chronic pain, assisting individuals to develop coping strategies and change negative thought patterns.
Supportive devices, such as braces or belts, provide additional stability and reduce strain on the back.
In cases where conservative treatments fail or if an underlying structural issue requires correction, surgery may be considered.
It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your specific situation. They can conduct a thorough evaluation, diagnose the underlying cause of your back pain, and recommend tailored interventions to address the issue. Additionally, seek medical attention promptly if you experience severe or persistent back pain.
Dr Clem Bonney
Dr Clem Bonney has extensive experience in assisting those with lower back pain. There are many available interventions, and choosing the correct method is crucial.