Acting early to prevent weight gain and increase physical exercise could help reduce the burden of back pain in young women, suggest new results presented at this year’s American College of Rheumatology meeting.
The prospective community-based study, embedded in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, found that higher weight, inadequate levels of physical activity and depression were all independent predictors of back pain over the following decade.
The results showed that for every 5 kg of weight gained there was a 5% increased risk of back pain over the next 12 years, and that this effect was not mitigated by doing more exercise.
Speaking to the limbic, one of the researchers Professor Flavia Cicutinni from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University said: “What is important about this study is that the average age of the women was 24 years, so we’re talking about a really young group of women.”
We found that the prevalence of back pain was actually quite high, with 41% of women self-reporting back pain in the last year, she said, adding that of these around 40% had considered the back pain enough of a problem to actually seek help for it.
“The problem is that if you’re getting episodes that early that is a predictor of getting more and more back pain over the years.
“So if we’re going to make a difference in terms of the burden of disease, we probably have to start dealing with it quite early on in life.”
Professor Cicutinni believes focusing on the potentially modifiable risk factors early on, in terms of preventing weight gain and maintaining physical activity, is going to be very important in preventing back pain.
“But I don’t think we can just say let’s get everybody out there doing exercise and that’s going to prevent back pain because it looks as if each of these risk factors is going to have to be dealt with, and much earlier than waiting until someone has got really bad back disease and then trying to fix it,” she said.
Professor Cicutinni says the study adds to growing evidence that weight prevention strategies are needed for younger people.
“This group of women who were healthy, community-based women actually gained about 5 kg over the 12 years, and that is consistent with what we’re seeing for much of the Australian data,” she said.
“There is an emerging story for musculoskeletal disease and other chronic disease that maybe we need to start really focusing on trying to get people to have an awareness of not gaining weight.”