Chronic back pain is on the rise – in part because the way we treat it often does more harm than good. It’s time to think differently about our aches
“ARGHH.” The first time it happens it takes you by surprise. Was that me? Then it happens again, and again. You give a tiny groan every time you get off the sofa. You hold the bottom of your spine and stretch, wondering if you should see a doctor. Surely you are too young to have a bad back?
That tends to be the start for a lot of us. Backache is an extraordinarily common burden, with one in four adults experiencing it right now, and 90 per cent of people having back pain at least once in their life. Last year, a series of papers in The Lancet revealed the extent of the problem: back pain is a leading cause of disability around the world. In the US alone it costs an eye-watering $ 635 billion a year in medical bills and loss of productivity.
Much of the blame has fallen on our increasingly desk-bound lifestyles and growing lifespans, which mean more years of wear and tear on our spines. But these factors only partly explain how we got here and what makes some people more vulnerable or resilient. The World Health Organization expects back pain problems to steadily rise in the years ahead and to affect more people around the globe. That makes it especially worrying that the people who are trying to help are making the problem worse.
The good news is we already have the knowledge …