A bad back may not just be a bad back -- it can increase the risk of mortality.
New research has found that back pain can lead to decreased activity, fear of exercise, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression, all of which can increase mortality.
Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira, physiotherapy researcher from the University of Sydney, said that the findings are a result of a collaboration with Danish researchers who investigated whether spinal pain was a contributor to an increase in the rate of mortality for sufferers.
The study, which examined 4390 twins aged over 70, gave Ferreira and his associates access to a large database to test their theory while simultaneously enabling the researchers to exclude genetic factors as causes of the increased rates.
Some 600,000 older Australians suffer from back pain.
"[For] someone who suffers from spinal pain, for example lower back pain or neck area pain, if you compare them with someone who doesn't suffer with spinal pain, that person has a 13 percent more chance of dying every year because of the condition," Ferreira told The Huffington Post Australia.
"Every year that goes by, the probability increases because of the presence of back pain.
"These findings warrant further investigation because while there is a clear link between back pain and mortality we don't know yet why this is so. Spinal pain may be part of a pattern of poor health and poor functional ability, which increases mortality risk in the older population."
Ferreira said that while the findings don't prove that back pain is a killer in and of itself, other research indicates that sufferers tend to exercise less, develop a fear of movement and can also go on to develop symptoms of depression.
For these reasons, he characterises back pain as the trigger for "a cascade of conditions" which can then go on to lead to higher mortality rates for sufferers, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"We want society in general to pay more attention to back pain -- not to panic -- but to try to work with researchers and engage with health carers and providers to try to prevent the long-term consequences of that pain," he said.
"Policy makers should be aware that back pain is a serious issue -- it is an indicator of people's poor health and should be screened for, particularly in the elderly."
Dr Matthew Fernandez, lead author of the study, added that good spinal health was critical in maintaining older age independence, particularly with a rapidly ageing population.
"Back pain should be recognised as an important co-morbidity that is likely to impact people's longevity and quality of life," he said.Suggest a correction