Published in the European Journal of Pain, a study of 4390 Danish twins aged over 70 years old has found that those suffering from back pain had a 13% increased risk of all-cause mortality. The study investigated whether spinal pain increased the rate of all-cause and disease-specific cardiovascular mortality.
“Our study found that compared to those without spinal pain (back and neck), a person with spinal pain has a 13% higher chance of dying every year,” says senior author, Paulo Ferreira, associate professor and physiotherapy researcher from the University of Sydney (Sydney, Australia)’s Faculty of Health Sciences. “This is a significant finding, as many people think that back pain is not life-threatening.”
“As this study was done in twins, the influence of shared genetic factors is unlikely because it was controlled for in our analysis.
“These findings warrant further investigation because while there is a clear link between back pain and mortality we don’t know yet why this is so. Spinal pain may be part of a pattern of poor health and poor functional ability, which increases mortality risk in the older population,” he said.
Lead author Matthew Fernandez, also from the university’s Faculty of Health Sciences, says, “With a rapidly growing ageing population, spinal health is critical in maintaining older age independence, highlighting the importance of spinal pain in primary health care as a presenting symptom.”
Back pain should be recognised as an important co-morbidity that is likely to impact people’s longevity and quality of life.”
Ferreira adds, “Policy makers should be aware that back pain is a serious issue—it is an indicator of people’s poor health and should be screened for, particularly in the elderly.”
According to a press release, recent research has also found that commonly prescribed medications for back pain such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory drugs are ineffective in treating pain may lead to side effects.
“Medications are mostly ineffective, surgery usually does not offer a good outcome – the best treatment for low back is a healthy lifestyle, including physical activity. People need to get moving,” Ferreira says.
Few studies have examined the potential reduced life expectancy associated with spinal pain in an ageing population, particularly after controlling for familial factors, including genetics.
This study follows previous research which found that people with depression are 60% more likely to develop low back pain in their lifetime.