Digital composite of highlighted spine of woman with back pain

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Have you been living with a chronic case of lower back pain? Depending on just how long your back has been acting up, new findings by researchers at the University of South Australia will either come as a relief or a serious cause for concern. After performing an analysis of nearly 100 relevant studies, scientists say the vast majority of back pain episodes clear up within a couple of months. However, if a person’s back continues to cause them discomfort longer than that, the chances of making a full recovery drop off considerably.

“The good news is that most episodes of back pain recover, and this is the case even if you have already had back pain for a couple of months,” University of South Australia Professor Lorimer Moseley says in a media release.

“The bad news is that once you have had back pain for more than a few months, the chance of recovery is much lower. This reminds us that although nearly everyone experiences back pain, some people do better than others, but we don’t completely understand why.”

Across the globe, lower back pain is a major driver of disability. Over 570 million people live with back pain on a daily basis. In the United States specifically, healthcare spending focusing on lower back pain reached an astounding $134.5 billion between 1996 and 2016. Costs continue to increase.

The research team held a systemic review and meta-analysis to reach this finding. More specifically, the project encompassed 95 studies, and the researchers’ main aim was to form a clearer understanding of the clinical course of acute (< 6 weeks), subacute (6 to less than 12 weeks), and persistent (12 to less than 52 weeks) lower back pain.

Among people living with recently developed lower back pain, both reported pain and mobility problems dropped significantly during the first six weeks. After that, recovery slowed down.

In many ways, a follow-up to related research conducted by the same team in 2012, this new report details how countless people with persistent lower back pain (over 12 weeks) continue to live with moderate-to-high levels of pain and disability.

Man bothered by back pain while working at desk, home office
In the United States specifically, healthcare spending focusing on lower back pain reached an astounding $134.5 billion between 1996 and 2016. (© fizkes – stock.adobe.com)

“These findings make it clear that back pain can persist even when the initial injury has healed,” Prof. Moseley adds. “In these situations, back pain is associated with pain system hypersensitivity, not ongoing back injury. This means that if you have chronic back pain — back pain on most days for more than a few months — then it’s time to take a new approach to getting better.”

Prof. Moseley notes there are new treatments centered on training both the brain and body that “focus on first understanding that chronic back pain is not a simple problem, which is why it does not have a simple solution, and then on slowly reducing pain system sensitivity while increasing your function and participation in meaningful activities.”

The identification of slowed recovery in people with subacute lower back pain is vital, study authors explain, because it helps ensure care is escalated when appropriate, lowering the likelihood of persistent pain. Moving forward, further studies regarding treatments can help address this common and debilitating condition, and foster a more comprehensive understanding of back pain among younger and older patients in particular (younger than 18, older than 60 years).

The study is published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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