Curtin University of Technology researcher Dr Andrew Briggs has called for back pain to become a National Health Priority Area (NHPA) in a paper released in the Medical Journal of Australia.
The paper, written in conjunction with Professor Rachelle Buchbinder from Monash University, investigates whether back pain should be a new NHPA as it causes a profound burden on the health of Australians.
Dr Briggs, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Curtin’s School of Physiotherapy, believes that chronic back pain meets the criteria for an NHPA and shares risk factors common to other NHPAs.
"Back pain is a significant health problem in Australia with up to 80 per cent of the population experiencing it at some point in their lives and 10 per cent having a significant disability as a result," said Dr Briggs.
"Chronic back pain puts a significant burden on the individual and the community and is an enormous contributor to lost productivity, second only to mental health.
"There is also a growing number of adolescents who are suffering from back pain which will be a threat to future workforce productivity as they grow older."
Back pain also places a heavy financial burden on the economy, according to Dr Briggs.
"Healthcare expenditure for back pain exceeds that of other musculoskeletal disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis which are existing NHPAs.
"Making back pain a NHPA would provide opportunities to target funding to prevent or minimise disability related to back pain through appropriate public health and workplace initiatives, amongst other things."
The seven current NHPAs are cancer control, injury prevention and control, cardiovascular health, mental health, diabetes mellitus, asthma, and musculoskeletal conditions.
"Back pain meets the broad criteria for a NHPA and shares risk factors common to other NHPA conditions including imposing a significant personal and societal burden on Australia, and most importantly, health outcomes can be improved by adopting a biopsychosocial approach to its management," said Dr Briggs.
"Though there are a number of positive reasons that back pain becomes a NHPA, there is the risk that back pain management could become further medicalised and ineffective interventions could become more accepted."
(Source: Curtin University: Medical Journal of Australia: May 2009)