Back pain associated with increased risk of death in women

Study finds lower back pain is associated with increased risk of death in older women. Previous research says massage is an effective solution.

There are good reasons to take back pain seriously. New research makes this very clear.

Researchers at Boston Medical Center have found that frequent, persistent back pain is associated with a nearly 25% increase in earlier death in older women.

24% increased risk of death

The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, is the first to measure the impact of persistent back pain on mortality. The researchers followed 8,321 women for an average of 14 years. And after controlling for sociodemographic and health factors, they found that women who reported frequent, persistent back pain had a 24% increased risk of death compared to women with no back pain.

“Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and women aged 40-80 years have the highest prevalence of back pain,” says the media release. Women also report more frequent and debilitating back pain compared to men.

For the study, researchers took baseline measurements of back pain, then followed up with participants two years later and measured back pain again. In year four, participants were asked about and observed doing common activities of daily living.

Fifty six percent of the women in the study died over a median follow up of 14.1 years. A significantly higher proportion of women with frequent persistent back pain died (65.8%) than those with no back pain (53.5%). Disability in the follow up years reportedly explained much of the association with mortality.

Study is the first of its kind

“To our knowledge, our study is the first to measure disability after measurement of back pain. This allowed for a prospective analysis of back pain that persisted over time and later rates of disability, which may help explain the association between back pain and mortality,” Eric Roseen, a research fellow at Boston Medical Center and lead author of the study, is quoted as saying. “Our findings raise the question of whether better management of back pain across the lifespan could prevent disability, improve quality of life, and ultimately extend life.”

Roseen also said, “Back pain may directly impair daily activities, but older adults could inappropriately avoid them due to fear of re-injury or worsening of symptoms. Being unable to perform, or avoiding, daily activities could lead to weight gain, development or progression of other chronic health conditions, and ultimately earlier death.”

Massage is proven to relieve back pain

Service providers who help customers cope with and relieve back pain – like massage therapists – would be wise to educate them about the risks associated with back pain and the importance of early management.

Massage is an effective treatment for low back pain. A study released in 2017 found real-world massage therapy to be an effective treatment for chronic low back pain. In the study, participants with debilitating low back pain were provided with a series of 10 massages. More than 50%  experienced clinically meaningful improvements in their pain.

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