Lower back pain: Old treatment methods useless, harmful, say Australian researchers

Lower back pain
Lower back pain treatment requires re-look, say Monash University research project. (Monash University) Monash University

Researchers from Australia in their groundbreaking papers published in The Lancet, have warned that low back pain is emerging as a major health burden globally and the over-use of X-rays and scans, opioids, injections and surgery to the condition is useless and sometimes harmful.

With more than 540 million people affected globally, the stifling impact from low back pain has doubled in the last 25 years, and is poised to multiply with more nations facing aged or obese population, said researchers from Monash University in Australia.

Lead researcher Professor Rachelle Buchbinder said, "The burden from low back pain has reached a tipping point where the condition is growing rapidly, is poorly understood and is being mismanaged medically."

Instead, a better understanding of low back pain, and changes to the way care for low back pain is delivered and reimbursed, are key to reversing the problems, she said. Doing more of the same will not reduce low back pain disability nor its long term consequences, she said seeking positive health for all.

"There are safe effective treatments for low back pain; the challenge is ensuring patients get the right care at the right time," noted co-author Professor Chris Maher, seeking an end to fragmented and outdated models of care.

The research papers were the outcome of collaboration of more than 200 clinician-researchers from 21 universities, 21 hospitals and 10 research institutes, seeking to optimise musculoskeletal health by addressing the "paucity of high-quality research that has been focused on arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, despite these conditions affecting 28% of Australians."

Australia spends $4.8 billion annually on management of low back pain, which reduces its GDP by AU$3.2 billion per annum and is the most common condition among the older Australians aged above 45, keeping them out of the workforce.

Around 25% of Australians suffer from low back pain on any day and about 50% of Australians suffered from back pain in the past month, said researchers.