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Almost half of all adolescents suffer low back pain

04 March 2009 Plataforma SINC

A study led by Catalan researchers confirms that 40% of adolescents have low back pain at least once a month. However, the real effect of this pain is minimal in 90% of cases. Another important piece of information: only 35% of adolescents have not had any type of pain in the last month.

The study, carried out by various Catalan research centres in collaboration with two Swiss hospitals, analysed the prevalence of low back pain in Spain and examined whether this discomfort affects the quality of life of adolescents. The results showed that 40% of young people do have pain (over 24 hours of discomfort in the past month).

The research, published in the journal, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, was conducted in Barcelona and Freiburg. In the Swiss city the data of all adolescents between 14 and 15 years old was recorded, while in Barcelona a representative sample of the same age range was analysed. The study included a total of 1,470 participants.

"It needs to be pointed out that the data from Barcelona is the same as that from the city of Freiburg, which gives an idea of the universal nature of our findings. Although both cities represent the Western world, they are two completely different contexts", SINC was informed by Ferrán Pellisé, the main author of the study and doctor from the Spinal Unit at the Vall d'Hebrón Hospital in Barcelona.

In terms of impact on quality of life, the results showed that of the percentage of adolescents affected by low back pain, in 90% this pain had no functional repercussion. The biggest limitation of the study is, according to Pellisé, lack of knowledge over whether this pain might have future consequences.

"The conclusion we reached is that isolated low back pain is very common among adolescents, but has little impact on their quality of life. Low back pain is different in an adolescent whose whole body hurts, in which case it does have an impact on quality of life. This situation, observed in 10% of participants, is more common in girls than boys", he added.

Pain related behaviour

The data is significant: only 35% of young people questioned did not have any type of pain in the last month. In other words, 65% of adolescents acknowledged that they have had pain recently. "Within reasonable parameters, pain is a common experience in the life of a healthy person. The risk perhaps of saying this is to minimise possible serious cases, which is why it is necessary to be very prudent with the results", the Catalan researcher emphasised to SINC.

Previous study showed that, with the same level of pain, patients who remain active evolve better than the rest. What's more, experts insist that low back pain in an adolescent is related to psychosocial factors. The risk of experiencing discomfort is greater in those young people with certain habits such as smoking or who live in families with other members who suffer low back pain.

"It is a huge risk to cause social alarm just because low back pain might be so prevalent, since its real impact is low in 90% of cases. Therefore no restrictive measure would need to be taken in this population, only encourage them to keep leading a normal life and not ‘medicalise' a problem which is perhaps not that important. We would only have to treat the remaining 10%", concluded Pellisé.

Pain treatment in Spain

Almost all patients who visit a rheumatologist have some type of pain. This was the data presented at the 2nd Symposium on Pain of the Spanish Society of Rheumatology, held on February 21 in Huelva. The EPISER study, a survey carried out in Spain, revealed that, on any given day, more than a third of the population have some type of pain in a joint or their back.

Musculoskeletal pain is an extremely frequent symptom. In fact, the EPIDOR study showed that pain is undoubtedly the biggest symptom in rheumatology consultations. This research found that 99% of patients who visit a rheumatologist for the first time and 95% of those who go for a follow-up visit had suffered some type of pain in the week prior to their visit.

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Attached files

  • El 40% de los jóvenes afirma tener dolor lumbar. Photo: SINC


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