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Back pain: A national health priority

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Four out of five Australians will suffer from back pain with one in 10 experiencing significant disability according to a report in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Senior author Professor Rachelle Buchbinder from Cabrini Institute and Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine and Dr Andrew Briggs from Curtin University of Technology’s School of Physiotherapy have called for back pain to be classified as a National Health Priority Area (NHPA).

They say classification of back pain as an NHPA has many benefits including improving public awareness and better coordinating management strategies.

"Back pain disrupts quality of life and accounts for an enormous cost to the community," Professor Buchbinder said.

"It is associated with significant workforce absenteeism and ‘presenteeism’, where people are at work but not productive. Back pain is second only to mental health as a contributor to lost productivity.

"Including back pain as a national health priority will ensure greater opportunity to target funding at preventing or minimising the impact of back pain on individuals and the community."

The report says back pain is experienced by a broad cross section of the population.

"While the prevalence of back pain is low in children (one to six per cent) it rises sharply in adolescence (18 to 50 per cent)," Professor Buchbinder said.

"In Australia today it is one of the most common long-term health conditions reported by teenagers and young adults. Adolescents with back pain report disability in up to 94 per cent of cases.

"The increasing prevalence of back pain in adolescence suggests a growing burden into adulthood and a real threat to future workforce productivity."

The report says the aims of the NHPA framework, which include limiting the development and progression of chronic conditions, slowing the onset of complications that cause disability and reducing preventable hospital admissions, are all highly relevant to back pain.

While the report highlights the advantages of listing back pain in the framework, the authors also point to potential disadvantages including encouraging vested interests to promote ineffective interventions and potentially increasing the medicalisation of back pain.

(Source: Monash University: Medical Journal of Australia: May 2009)

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Posted On: 4 May, 2009
Modified On: 16 January, 2014

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