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​Back Pain

Evidence-based Overviews | Prevention | Treatments & Self-Management | Associated Conditions | Decision Aids and Toolkits | Work Accommodation | Back Pain Organizations

Woman with Back PainBack pain is discomfort felt in the lower or upper back caused by stress, strain or injury. Low back pain is an extremely common problem that most people (4 out of 5 people) experience at some point in their life. Back pain affects people of all ages – with population studies showing that the incidence of back pain dramatically increases between the ages of 30 and 40 and tends to decrease after age 65.

A recent survey in Canada found that back pain was one of the most common health complaints of 12 – 44 year olds. It seems that having some back pain for most people is a “normal” part of life. When you experience back pain the first time it can be frightening.  However, knowing that most people recover well from initial back pain within 4 to 6 weeks can prevent undue worry and stress.  Unfortunately, people who have had an episode of back pain once are likely to experience recurring back pain in their lives.  Fortunately, recurrent back pain is not generally a sign that your body is deteriorating nor that things are going get worse over time. In fact, people can live well with chronic back pain.

Evidence-based Overviews    

  
Sponsor Organization
Back Pain Overview
Arthritis Research UK
Back Pain Overview
National Health Services (NHS) (UK)
Chronic Back Pain
Medline Plus
Chronic Back Pain
Arthritis Society Canada
Evidence-based information, resources and links related to back pain
Institute for Work and Health
Get Back At It!
Alberta Innovates Health Solutions
Living with Back Pain
National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders
Low Back Pain Fact Sheet
National Institutes of Health

Prevention       

It used to be thought that back pain was mostly a condition that affected people in their older age, and that a common cause of back pain was degenerative disc disease. However, current research shows that the term “degenerative disc disease” and the notion that it is a major cause of back pain is likely incorrect. 

The simple answer is that degenerative changes occur in most people as they age and can begin in ones 20s.  Degenerative disc disease is typically not an aggressive progressive condition nor is it a disease.  There is excellent research that shows that over 40% of people with x-rays showing moderate and severe degenerative disc disease are, in fact, symptom free. In research, we call the results of these x-rays false positive that is yes, they indicate changes to one’s skeletal system and discs, but these change do not necessarily have anything to do with your back pain.  For most people simple back pain likely occurs from strains and sprains and is classified as non-specific back pain.

Can Education Help?

Knowledge is power. The more you know about your condition, the more control you have to manage your pain and recover. Research has found other factors that are associated with sub-acute and chronic back pain and back pain related disability. These risk factors include:

  Lifestyle Factors
  • Smoking
  • Low physical fitness
  • Obesity
  • Poor general health
  • Poor posture
  • Excessive stress
  • Depression
Movement Factors
  • Frequent heavy lifting
  • Twisting and bending
  • Prolonged static postures
  • Repetitive work
Psychological and Social Factors
  • Mental stress and anxiety
  • Lack of job satisfaction
  • Beliefs about back pain
  • Poor advice from family and friends

Making lifestyle and continued movement changes as well as addressing psychological and social issues may not only reduce your risk of chronic back pain, it can have other positive impacts on your overall quality of life. 

Resources

  
Sponsor Organization
European Guidelines for the Prevention of Low Back Pain
European Commission Research Directorate General
Interactive Tutorial on Back Pain Prevention
Medline Plus
Prevent Back Pain
US Dept. of Health and Human Services
What is Back Pain?
Arthritis Research UK

Associated Conditions    

DepressionDepression – People with chronic back pain are at a higher risk of experiencing depression. Depression and pain can produce a cycle where one feeds into the other causing higher pain levels and greater depression. While using medication, exercise or other treatments for you back pain is beneficial, it’s also important to pay attention to your mental state.  You could start by finding ways to lower your stress levels, engage in positive thinking and seek counselling with a trained psychologist or counsellor.

See more information and helpful resources on depression and other mental health issues.

Resources

Decision Aids and Toolkits 

  
Sponsor Organization
European Guidelines for the Prevention of Low Back Pain
European Commission Research Directorate General
Interactive Tutorial on Back Pain Prevention
Medline Plus
Prevent Back Pain
US Dept. of Health and Human Services
What is Back Pain?
Arthritis Research UK

​Back Pain Organizations  

  
American Pain Foundation
BC Directory of Health Researchers and Trainees
British Columbia Society of Occupational Therapists (BCSOT)
Canadian Pain Society
Cochrane Back Review Group
Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group
Dieticians of Canada
Neil Squire Society
Physiotherapy Association of British Columbia - Find a Physiotherapist
​Reviewed by Marc White PhD, Scientific & Executive Director, CIRPD (See Review Criteria)

Last Modified: 1/26/2016 3:58 PM

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