Elderly patients who suffer from back pain have a 13 per cent increased risk of dying from any cause, University of Sydney research has found.
Published in the European Journal of Pain, the study of 4390 Danish twins aged more than 70 years 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, a person with spinal pain has a 13 per cent higher chance of dying every year. This is a significant finding as many people think that back pain is not life-threatening,” said senior author Paulo Ferreira, physiotherapy researcher from the university’s faculty of health sciences.
“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 from the faculty of health sciences, said: “With a rapidly growing aging 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.”
“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,” said Ferreira.
Few studies have examined the potential reduced life expectancy associated with spinal pain in an aging population, particularly after controlling for familial factors, including genetics.
This study follows previous research which found that people with depression are 60 per cent more likely to develop low back pain in their lifetime.
Source: University of Sydney
Reference: M. Fernandez, E. Boyle, J. Hartvigsen, M.L. Ferreira, et al. Is this back pain killing me? All-cause and cardiovascular-specific mortality in older Danish twins with spinal pain. European Journal of Pain, 2017; DOI: 10.1002/ejp.996