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Thursday, 30 April, 1998, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
Back to basics
X-ray of a bad back
Many of us are bent upon ignoring our back problems
Back ache is a chronic condition and sufferers will find their problem could develop into a long-term one unless they get treatment early, according to new research.

Over a period of 12 months, a group of doctors in Manchester studied nearly 500 people with back ache between the ages of 18 and 75 at two GP practices in the south of the city.

They found the general belief that "most of these episodes will be short-lived and that 80% to 90% of attacks of low back pain recover in about six week, irrespective of the administration or type of treatment" was just not true.

Their findings showed that although the vast majority of people did not consult their GP again after three months, this did not mean that they were no longer suffering the symptoms.

In fact, according to the research published in the British Medical Journal, three-quarters of those who took part in the study were still experiencing back pain a year on from their first visit to the GP.

"These figures simply do not fit with claims that 90% of episodes of low back pain end in complete recovery," says the study.

It adds that low back pain should be seen as a chronic problem "with an untidy pattern of grumbling symptoms and periods of relative freedom from pain and disability interspersed with acute episodes."

Patient having their back examined
Back ache can quickly develop and become more acute
The study also suggests that effective early treatment could help patients recover sooner from the condition, as well as minimise the social, economic and medical impact of the problem.

Between 1993 and 1996, the number of certified work days lost in Britain though back pain rose from 93 million to 116 million. Each year, sufferers of back pain cost industry more than 5bn in lost production, and the NHS 480m.

According to the National Back Pain Association, 60% of the population will suffer back pain symptoms at some time. The latest study adds that by the age of 30, almost half the population "will have experienced a substantive episode of low back pain."

Norma Montagu of the National Back Pain Association believes that people must be more informed if they are to prevent back problems becoming acute.

"Many people who contact us have had a back problem for well over six months and most of them have been offered no specific treatment such as physiotherapy.

"By the same token, they haven't been given any information that they can take away to get themselves back to right."

As far as prevention is concerned, all those couch potatoes, people who spend hours working hunched at their desk or at the wheel of car should be warned.

"Back problems are certainly not the preserve of the manual worker, with whom they are commonly associated," Ms Montagu adds.

She recommends leading more active lives, paying greater attention to posture and taking regular exercise to strengthen spinal muscles and ligaments.

BBC News
Norma Montagu of the National Back Pain Association dispels the myths
BBC News
BBC Health Correspondent James Westhead reports (0'41")
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