BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Saturday, 27 October, 2001, 23:31 GMT 00:31 UK
Search for back pain cause
Scientists are looking for the cause of back pain
Scientists are looking for the cause of back pain
Two thirds of adults in the UK have experienced back pain.

Researchers are now investigating a possible cause, linked to changes in the discs in the spine, which could lead to new treatments.

John Barnes tells how he has suffered excruciating back pain for the last 30 years.

What started of as a stiff neck led to years of operations and a complete change of lifestyle for former bank manager John Barnes.

Mr Barnes, from Stockport in Cheshire, says he has been crippled by back pain.

Although he had to leave his job early, he cannot enjoy retirement.

"I have to be selective in what I do at all times, with constant pain albeit of varying degrees.

By understanding this process better we hope it could lead to ways of counteracting it, and therefore offer better treatments to alleviate back pain

Dr Eustace Johnson, Centre for Spinal Studies
"Holidays away are not available, as I have to have the use of an orthopaedic adjustable bed.

"A few days away at my son or daughter's homes can be accommodated with plenty of pillows and their understanding."

Mr Barnes has to use crutches, or even a wheelchair to help him get around, and he says he is concerned about what the daily cocktail of drugs he takes is doing to his body.

He welcomes any advances in treatments, even those which have come too late to help him.

He says he has asked: "Why me?". But he has coped better with his condition as the years have passed.

He was even able to achieve his goal of walking his daughter down the aisle unaided when she got married last year.

Diseased discs

Dr Eustace Johnson is part of a team based at the Centre for Spinal Studies in Oswestry, Shropshire, which is carrying out a study into the causes of back pain.

The 95,000 three-year study, is backed by medical research charity Action Research, which is also funding other studies in the same area.

Back facts
5m see their GP about back pain each year
It costs primary care 140.6m annually
Two thirds of adults in the UK experience back pain
It is the leading cause of disability, with 1.1m people affected
300,000 people are off work every day with backache
The Oswestry research is looking at changes to the intervertebral discs - discs in the spine - which are thought to play a part in causing back pain.

Healthy discs only have nerves in their outer regions.

But so-called degenerate discs, removed from people with back pain, are invaded with nerves throughout.

Scientists believe this could contribute to lower back pain.

Researchers from the Oswestry centre, Cardiff, Keele and Kentucky USA are focusing on a protein called proteoglycan.

It has been discovered that this protein inhibits nerve growth.

Counteracting pain

Dr Johnson said: "These findings may be important because one of the most common changes seen during disc degeneration is a loss of proteoglycan.

"By understanding this process better we hope it could lead to ways of counteracting it, and therefore offer better treatments to alleviate back pain."

Dr Stephen Eisenstein, who is also involved in the research, said: "Despite back pain being so widespread and costly to the individual and society as a whole, back pain rarely receives the attention and resources given to other conditions."

John Grounds, of Action Research, said: "There are 300,000 people off work every day with backache, and yet our understanding of what exactly causes the pain remains poor."

Over a million people are disabled by back pain, making it the leading cause of disability in the UK.

At least five million adults go to their GP each year because of it, costing primary care 140.6m, according to the charity BackCare.

Physiotherapy for back pain costs the NHS an estimated 159.6m each year.

The research will be presented to the American Society of Neuroscience conference in November, and is set to be published in the journal Spine later this year.

See also:

21 May 01 | Health
Toxin could help back pain
16 Oct 00 | Health
Back pain cripples small firms
20 May 01 | Health
Back to nature for pain relief
06 Oct 01 | Health
'I knew I wasn't making it up'
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories