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Good (and Bad) News for People With Lower Back Pain

Back pain is a widespread issue, affecting over 570 million people globally and costing the United States $134.5 billion in healthcare expenses from 1996 to 2016. Professor Lorimer Moseley from the University of South Australia delivers a mix of good and bad news regarding back pain. He notes that most cases of back pain show recovery, even if the pain has persisted for a couple of months. However, the chance of recovery significantly drops after a few months, highlighting the complexity of the condition.

A recent comprehensive review and analysis involving an international team of researchers, covering 95 studies, aimed to unravel the clinical course of different phases of low back pain. The findings revealed that individuals with new back pain experience significant improvement in pain and mobility within the initial 6 weeks, but recovery tends to slow down afterward. For those with persistent back pain (lasting more than 12 weeks), moderate-to-high levels of pain and disability persist even after the initial injury has healed.

Professor Moseley emphasizes that chronic back pain is linked to heightened pain system sensitivity rather than ongoing injury. New treatments are emerging, focusing on training both the brain and body to reduce pain sensitivity and enhance overall function and engagement in daily activities.

The study underscores the significance of recognizing slowed recovery in individuals with subacute low back pain to escalate care and minimize the likelihood of persistent pain. Further research is crucial to exploring effective treatments and gaining a deeper understanding of this prevalent and debilitating condition, particularly in age groups younger than 18 and older than 60.

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