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

Monday, 3 December, 2001, 11:02 GMT
Why back pain is hard to beat
Back pain is a leading cause of work sickness
Patients may find it difficult to recover from a back injury because they start using the wrong muscles to bend and lift, a study suggests.

This, in time, can cause further injury to the spinal column - and turn a short-term muscle injury into a long-term problem.

Back injury is one of the leading reasons why people need to take time off work sick.

Researchers from the Ohio State University looked at more than 20 patients with low back pain.

After back injury, people need to re-learn how to use their muscles naturally

Professor William Marras, Ohio State University
They were wired up to devices which recorded electrical activity in the back muscles - the signature of whether the person is using them or not.

These "electromyagrams" were compared with those from an uninjured person.

Low-back pain patients used many more muscles, and ended up exerting much more force on the spine, to which they are all anchored.

Protection team

Instead of employing the powerful back muscles themselves, many patients use abdominal or side muscles to try to make up the shortfall.

They are doing this to protect the muscle which was originally injured.

Professor William Marras, an expert in "systems engineering", said: "When people apply all those extra muscles, it's as if they're pushing down on the short end of a seesaw, and trying to lift something on the far end.

Professor Marras and research subject (picture courtesy of Ohio State University)
Professor Marras takes readings from patient (picture courtesy of Ohio State University)
"They exert more force, and to little effect."

Over time, extra force on the spine can lead to more serious, and permanent injuries, such as disc degeneration.

Professor Marras suggests that physical "retraining" of patients may be required to correct the problem.

"After back injury, people need to re-learn how to use their muscles naturally."

Job problems

Employers should also face stricter rules about protecting employees who have suffered a back injury from further harm.

They should never be allowed to lift heavy objects - even if they are relatively pain free, he says.

In addition, he recommended that patients with back injuries should make every effort to lose weight.

See also:

04 Sep 01 | Health
Drivers 'risking spine problems'
28 Jul 01 | Health
Stretching a leg - day by day
14 May 01 | Health
Motors add muscle to patients
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