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Intense Low Back Pain May Signal Longer Term Problems

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Acute low back pain experienced over short periods indicates a high risk of longer term problems, a new study has established.

Led by Paul Campbell, researchers at the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre at Keele University assessed 488 patients who were receiving treatment for low back pain. The subjects were asked to complete questionnaires every six months over the course of five years. The study participants afflicted by the severest pain during their first visit were 12% more likely to still be suffering pain six months later and 9% more likely to experience pain five years later. In addition, those who had expectations of persisting pain were 4% more likely to have the condition six months later and 6% more likely to suffer from it at five years. This finding suggests that people are generally able to tell that they are dealing with a long-term problem, Arthritis Research UK (ARUK) said.

The results of the study corroborate what previous research has established, namely that the intensity of initial low back pain is a major indicator of future pain and disability. This is the first study to reveal how this association unfolds over a long period of time and highlights the pivotal role played by pain relief at the start of low back pain treatment.

The worst bouts of pain for people with this condition usually occur at night, during activity or after a prolonged period sitting in one position. The pain can also be triggered by poor posture or by lifting something heavy. ARUK noted that some forms of back pain were associated with more serious conditions, for example slipped discs, sciatica and ankylosing spondylitis.