What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain is common, expensive and one of the leading workers’ compensation concerns. There are things we know for sure about back pain and things we don’t. We know up to 84% of the population gets back pain at some point in their life, it ranks the 11th most frequent reason for a physician visit and it accounts for one-quarter to one-third of all workers’ compensation costs. A 2014 study showed that globally, low back pain causes more ‘years lived with disability’ than any other condition.
What we don’t know is what causes it. Low back pain is a subjective perception of pain in the lower back, buttocks or leg. Many feel back pain comes from a herniated disc, pinched nerve, muscle strain, arthritis or muscle spasm. In reviewing the research, up to 90% of most back pain is unknown, genetic or a natural aging of the discs.
Don’t get me wrong, there are definite causes of back pain (cancer 0.7%, arthritis 5%, traumatic fracture 1%, spinal stenosis 3%) but the cause of most back pain is unknown. Is it possible that back pain is over-medicalized? The National Institutes of Health guidance says “…If your back pain is severe or doesn’t improve after three days, you should call your health care provider. You should also get medical attention if you have back pain following an injury.”
It’s important to educate people to the fact that most back pain will resolve on its own and understanding the importance of maintaining activity, even at work. Research is showing that over the counter analgesics, recreational exercise and McKenzie extensions, which are stretching exercises individuals can do on their own, seem to work just as well as professional intervention.
Most of us will have back pain at some point in our lives because we are all getting older. Taking personal responsibility for coping with the pain, staying active and returning to work are good self-care guidelines to follow. Through ergonomics, we can reduce the likelihood of re-occurrence at work through reduced heavy lifting, handling and bending, while creating a workplace where employees can return to work safely and stay productive, which is an important part of successful recovery.