Exercise essential for lower back pain

  • Deborah Condon

People who develop lower back pain (LBP) should exercise and return to their usual activities in order to lower their risk of future pain and disability, the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP) has said.

According to the society, LBP is a huge cause of disability worldwide, affecting the quality of life of many people. However the best approaches to managing the condition often contrast with the beliefs of the public.

"LBP patients who are most fearful about their future pain, who rest excessively, who cannot cope with or control their pain, or who believe there is a serious structural problem in their back are at greater risk of developing chronic LBP.

"These are understandable concerns when one considers common perceptions about LBP. The good news is that these beliefs are incorrect and can be changed. International research shows that improving beliefs about LBP can make a big difference to people with the condition," the ISCP said.

In order to challenge some of the common myths surrounding LBP and to give the public a greater understanding of how to manage the condition, the society has published an information brochure and leaflet, Challenging Back Pain Myths, as part of its annual Move4Health campaign.

Speaking at the launch of the brochure, Kieran O'Sullivan, chairperson of the 2011 Move4Health campaign, noted that modifying people's beliefs and attitudes in relation to LBP is very effective.

"Research has shown that changing beliefs and attitudes about LBP reduces disability and sick leave in a cost-effective manner, with obvious advantages for the person themselves, as well as wider society. Education about what is really occurring in back pain, when combined with physiotherapy, significantly reduces pain and disability," Mr O'Sullivan explained.

He pointed out that if attempts to change beliefs about LBP are confined to direct interactions with LBP patients, ‘progress will be slow'. Previous international research has demonstrated that public health interventions designed to alter beliefs about LBP can be very effective in changing beliefs. For example, after such an approach, members of the public are more likely to correctly believe that LBP does not necessarily need rest or require long periods of time off work.

"Critically, this is also associated with a clear decline in disability and the costs of compensation," he said.

Commenting on the Move4Health campaign, Neil O'Connell, a physiotherapy lecturer in Brunel University in the UK pointed out that ‘no painful complaint is more saddled with unhelpful myths than back pain'.

"The persistence of these myths can impair recovery and promote unnecessary suffering and disability. The Move4Health campaign by the ISCP is attacking some of these myths head-on and is a crucial step towards empowering people with back pain to make better decisions," he said.

Meanwhile, according to Dr Paul Murphy, a consultant pain specialist at St Vincent's Private Hospital in Dublin, this campaign ‘is an important initiative in dispelling some of the unhelpful myths surrounding back pain'.

"In particular, encouraging patients to remain physically active is critically important in facilitating recovery," he said.

The Challenging Pack Pain Myths brochure will be available at a series of public meetings being held nationwide this month and next month. A chartered physiotherapist will be in attendance at each meeting to answer any questions on LBP. For a full list of these meetings or to download Challenging Back Pain Myths, click on www.move4health.ie



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