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Scientists reveal a link between depression and back pain

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Posted January 19, 2016

Back pain is one of the most common health problems in the world. It affects young as well as old people and can be so strong and intrusive even the simplest daily tasks will become very difficult. There are many factors that may cause back pain – from long sitting work hours to various diseases. However, now scientists from the University of Sydney found that even depression can be linked to higher risk of developing back pain.

Scientists still are not sure about the mechanism of how depression and lower back pain are related. However, addressing both conditions simultaneously should bring more positive outcomes. Image credit: Harrygouvas via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists still are not sure about the mechanism of how depression and lower back pain are related. However, addressing both conditions simultaneously should bring more positive outcomes. Image credit: Harrygouvas via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

New research reveals that people suffering from depression are as much as 60% more likely to develop low back pain in their lifetime than those who do not suffer from this mental illness. It has been noticed before that patients of depression often suffer from back pain too. However, this is the first study of its kind that reviews other researches done in this area and reveals that depression may actually trigger lower back pain. It is still not clear, however, what the mechanism linking the two conditions is, but this first insight may lead to further investigation.

Now scientists analysed data from 11 international studies, which included a total of 23,109 participants who were not currently experiencing back pain. Researchers noticed that people who were suffering from depression had a much higher risk of developing lower back pain in the future comparing to those who had no symptoms of depression. Furthermore, the more severe the depression was, the higher the risk of developing back pain is. Scientists discovered no differences regarding if depression was self-reported or clinically diagnosed – all of these people had higher chances of lower back pain.

Dr Paulo Ferreira, one of the authors of this study, said that as much as 61,200 cases of low back pain in Australia can be partially attributed to depression. He explained: “Low back pain is a debilitating condition, particularly when coupled with other health conditions, so I hope this discovery will lead to better treatment in the future. When patients come to us with both back pain and depression their cases are much more complex. They don’t respond to treatment in the same way as patients who only experience back pain – they take much longer to recover and treatment can be expensive”.

This means depression and back pain should be treated simultaneously. Moreover, there are studies that estimate that up 48% with back pain experience symptoms of depression. However, there are not enough studies to show why there is a relation between depression and back pain. This is why scientists say that further research is needed to investigate the causal relation between two conditions.

One hypothesis is that depressed people are simply less likely to rest and exercise well. Another guess is that people may be genetically pre-disposed to both conditions. However, more research is needed to investigate the connection and to create appropriate therapies to address both conditions simultaneously.

Source: sydney.edu.au

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