From the Journals

Back pain persists in one in five patients



Approximately one in five adults experience persistent back pain that may lead to increased pain, disability, and health care use, according to data from a population-based study of more than 12,000 adults in Canada.

“Given that back pain [BP] is often recurrent, it is important to understand the course of back pain over time as this can provide additional insights on risk factors for nonfavorable outcomes,” wrote Mayilee Canizares, PhD, and her colleagues at the University Health Network’s Krembil Research Institute in Toronto.

In a longitudinal study published in Arthritis Care & Research, the investigators followed 12,782 adults from 1994 to 2011. The study population was a representative sample of the Canadian population via the National Population Health Survey, which collected data every 2 years for a total of nine cycles of data. They included people aged 15 years or older in 1994-1995 who had at least three cycles of data from baseline onward.

Over the 16-year study period, 46% of the participants reported at least one episode of back pain. Of these, 18% were identified as persistent, 28% as developing, 21% as recovering, and 33% as occasional.

“A major finding from this study is the negative impact of persistent BP on a range of health-related outcomes, including health care use, after adjustments for sociodemographic, behavior-related factors, and comorbidities,” the researchers wrote.

They examined several sociodemographic variables, including age, gender, educational level, and household income, as well as behavior-related variables including physical activity, work activity, smoking status, and obesity. The average age of the participants at baseline was 39 years; 51% were female.

Individuals who reported any back pain were more likely than those with no back pain to be overweight or obese, to smoke, to engage in moderate to heavy physical activity each day, and to have chronic conditions, including arthritis, depression, high blood pressure, and migraine.

Overall, individuals with persistent or developing BP had more pain, disability, health care visits, and medication use, compared with those in the recovery and occasional BP groups. However, individuals in the recovery group showed increased use of opioids and antidepressants over time as well, suggesting a need for long-term monitoring of back pain patients.

The trend in general disability was greatest for individuals in the persistent group followed by the developing group, recovery group, and occasional BP group.

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the use of self-reports, potential selection bias, and the inability to differentiate the specific types of back pain, the researchers noted. However, the results support and extend data from previous studies and provide clinical implications for understanding back pain.

The researchers concluded that “the different trajectory patterns potentially represent subgroups in the population that may require different interventions. In light of the trend of marked worsening outcomes, particularly for the persistent and developing groups, studies are needed to determine the nature of these groups.”

The authors reported no relevant financial conflicts.

SOURCE: Canizares M et al. Arthritis Care Res. 2019 Jan 14. doi: 10.1002/acr.23811.

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