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Persistent Back Pain Is A Serious Warning Sign

New research has found that older women who experience frequent back pain may have a higher risk of death.

Carried out by researchers at Boston Medical Center, the study is the first to investigate the effect of persistent back pain on mortality, with previous researchers only focusing on the impact of back pain on disability.

For the new study, the researchers followed 8,321 women aged 65 or older for an average of 14 years. The participants were categorized into four groups depending on their level of back pain; no back pain, non-persistent back pain, infrequent persistent back pain, or frequent persistent back pain, with the women’s disability levels also assessed based on their ability to carry out common everyday activities.

The findings, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, showed that a higher proportion of women with frequent persistent back pain died (65.8 percent) than those with no back pain (53.5 percent).

After controlling for possibly influencing sociodemographic and health factors, the researchers calculated that women who reported frequent, persistent back pain had a 24 percent increased risk of death compared to women with no back pain.

back pain

The results also suggested that a woman’s level of disability helped explain the association between back pain and mortality.

More specifically, difficulty performing one or more basic daily activities, such as walking short distances or preparing a meal, explained nearly half (47 per cent) of the effect of frequent persistent back pain on mortality, while slow performance during tasks that assessed walking speed or repetitive standing up from a chair explained around a fourth of this association.

“To our knowledge, our study is the first to measure disability after measurement of back pain. This allowed for a prospective analysis of back pain that persisted over time and later rates of disability, which may help explain the association between back pain and mortality,” said lead author Eric Roseen, DC, MSc, “Our findings raise the question of whether better management of back pain across the lifespan could prevent disability, improve quality of life, and ultimately extend life.”

“Back pain may directly impair daily activities, but older adults could inappropriately avoid them due to fear of re-injury or worsening of symptoms. Being unable to perform, or avoiding, daily activities could lead to weight gain, development or progression of other chronic health conditions, and ultimately earlier death,” said Roseen.

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