Good News for Short Term Back Pain

Back pain improves in six weeks but may remain at one year for long-term sufferers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Low back pain is a common condition that can affect every day life through discomfort, health care costs, disability and loss of work. Luckily, most back pain is alleviated in the course of six weeks.

Researchers have identified that patients with low back pain improve quickly within the first six weeks of seeking care.

This is particularly true for those whose symptoms have been ongoing for less than 6 weeks. Those with back pain that has lasted for 12 weeks to one year at the time of seeking treatment find more difficulty in alleviating their symptoms.

"Consult with your doctor on your approach to low back pain treatment and management."

A team of six Australian and Brazilian researchers led by Dr. Luciola da C. Menezes Costa examined data from 33 studies involving 11,166 participants to understand the course of pain and disability in those receiving treatment for low back pain.

The participants were divided into two groups. Those with pain of less than six weeks' duration at the time of the study were classified as having acute pain.

Those with pain of six or more weeks duration at the time of the study were classified as having persistent pain.

The review found a reduction in average pain and disability within the first six weeks of treatment for those with both acute and persistent pain. This result was more prominent in those whose condition were acute.

Improvement tapered after six weeks of treatment. Between six weeks of treatment and one year of treatment, only mild improvement was seen. At one year, those in the acute pain group showed 90 percent improvement in pain and disability, while those in the persistent group showed only 50 percent improvement.

Because pain generally improved within the same time frame regardless of the treatment, much of the improvement is likely to be unrelated to the specific treatment method.

More research needs to be completed to understand the factors contributing to residual pain and disability and which methods of treatment are most effective.

The study was published in May by the Canadian Medical Association Journal and funded through a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. Supplementary funding was provided by GlaxoSmithKline for the study of paracetamol on low back pain. Some funding for attending conferences was provided by the George Institute for Global Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 12, 2012
Last Updated:
July 10, 2012