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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 00:11 GMT
Back pain sufferers 'should go to work'
back pain
Not enough staff struggle on with back pain
People suffering from lower back pain are taking too much time off work, claim experts.

Back pain sufferers should spend less time off work and concentrate on exercise rather than rest, new national guidelines will say.

The longer people are off with lower back pain, the lower their chance of returning to work

Dr Tim Carter
More than 11m working days are lost each year in the UK due to back pain, costing British industry 5bn.

But the Royal College of Physician's Faculty of Occupational Medicine says that in 95% of cases, staff should learn to deal with the problem and carry on working.

Only in the remaining 5% of serious cases, such as where pain is caused by sciatica - trapped nerves in the leg - is it advisable to take time off and rest.

Dr Tim Carter, chairman of the group working on the guidelines, said: "It is partly grin and bear it. It is partly about actively mobilising around it.

"The longer people are off with lower back pain, the lower their chance of returning to work."

He added: "It is important to accept that people are going to have incidents of back pain and to assess how you will deal with that when it arises.

"It is much like sports injuries - you exercise around the problem and you spend less time inactive."

Attitudes

He said people's attitudes and beliefs about lower back pain, which were often misguided, had an influence on how long it took them to recover.

Taking time off to rest will often make the back pain worse rather than better and turn minor cases into long term health problems.

Dr Carter and colleagues reviewed back pain studies across the world before concluding that rest may be the worst possible approach in many cases.

The guidelines, due to be published next month, are aimed at both occupational health workers and managers, so they have better understanding of workers' back pain problems - and the best way to handle them.

A spokesman for BackCare, formerly the National Back Pain Association, said that people suffering from back pain should take painkillers, carry on working and avoid bed rest.

"The worst thing you can do is lie in bed," he said. But he claimed one in four people going to their GP with lower back pain are still advised to stay at home and go to bed.

See also:

08 Oct 99 | Health
Bed rest backfires
02 Feb 00 | Health
Campaign against back pain
30 Jul 99 | Health
Exercise beats back pain
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