Did You Know? Canadians and Back Pain

Did You Know? Canadians and Back Pain

Medical conditions like multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease can be debilitating, but they’re also relatively rare. Back pain, on the other hand, affects nearly everybody. Approximately 85% of the workforce will experience back pain at some point during their careers, with 50% of Canadians being affected in an average six-month period.

That means that a full half of the working public is struggling with back pain at any given point in time; a figure that has an outsized impact on Canada’s public health. Lower back pain carries an annual price tag somewhere between $6 billion and $12 billion in Canada alone, to say nothing of the lost hours and lower productivity of people unable to perform at their best.

Suboptimal treatment methods have only added to the cost. For years, doctors treated back pain with opioids and other prescription painkillers. However, medication has become prescribed less frequently as medical professionals have become more aware of the risks in the wake of the opioid epidemic. In any case, medication often fails to address the root cause of back pain, which is why the latest guidelines emphasize non-invasive, non-chemical treatment options like massage or physical therapy that can help strengthen and stabilize the muscles around the spine.

Even so, patients seeking treatment for back pain are usually entering a system rife with inefficiencies. Back pain can result from a number of different factors, so the core cause will vary from individual to individual. Many primary care providers may not have the expertise needed to diagnose the specific nature of a problem, leading to a series of referrals to other doctors. This is often followed by numerous tests like CT and MRI scans, with long wait times in between each visit. Such tests are often unnecessary, and if the injury is severe, it won’t get better in the interim.

Thankfully, several provinces have taken steps to improve the existing information networks and educate patients and medical providers about back pain best practices. Carried out in conjunction with organizations like Bone and Joint Canada and the Canadian Chiropractors Association, those efforts make it easier to get in touch with experts and improve the quality of back pain assessment and care.    

In the meantime, there are ways to mitigate the risk of back pain. People in physically demanding trades like construction and landscaping are more likely to struggle with back pain, as are those who spend a lot of time on their feet doing repetitive motions, such as working in a kitchen or a retail outlet.

Office work tends to be slightly lower risk, although an overly sedentary lifestyle can still trigger pain, especially for people like truck drivers who have few opportunities to stretch. Jobs with a bit of flexibility – both in terms of hours and freedom of movement – tend to be better for the back, if only because they allow employees to respond to discomfort before it degenerates into something more severe.

Being more aware of back pain will make it easier to prevent back pain. Try to remember that taking a few minutes to get up and walk around can do wonders for spinal health!

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