One of the most important risk factors for back pain is a previous history of back pain. This suggests that if you have experienced back pain in the past, you are more likely to have back pain re-occurring. This makes it even more important for those people with a history of back pain to take good care of their back and know what to do when back pain strikes. Furthermore, it also seems that genetic factors play a role in back pain. The fact that many of your relatives experience back pain may not mean that you will be affected by back pain, but it does imply that you probably will have to take good care of your back.
PHYSICAL RISK FACTORS
Most people associate back pain with physical risk factors such as heavy lifting, twisting and bending and awkward postures. These can indeed contribute to back pain or exacerbate existing pain. Therefore you should pay attention to controlling these factors by, for example, using manual handling aids (lift, carts etc) and ergonomically assessed workstations. Other risk factors of a physical nature include vibration (for example the vibrations that a driver experiences when driving a car or truck), repetitive work and static postures.
PSYCHOLOGICAL RISK FACTORS
It may seem strange to think that psychology plays a role when the problem seems to be in the back. However as explained in the 'About your back' section, pain signals can be interfered with by many factors. You may all know an example from yourself or someone around you who had to endure much pain and discomfort in order to achieve something they really wanted to achieve. Think about a marathon runner who ‘forgets’ about the pain once the finish line gets closer and the crowd starts cheering. This may be an extreme example of how your mind can alter your pain sensation, but it plays a role in our everyday life.
"Fact: Stress and work satisfaction can influence back pain"
Mental stress, dissatisfaction at work, depression and distress can all play a role in back pain. These factors may re-enforce relatively minor pain signals resulting in a much more present pain sensation. By no account does this mean that people with back pain are mad, it merely shows that our mind and our psychological well-being plays a very important role in any pain experience. When treating back pain it is therefore very important to address all of these factors.
SOCIAL RISK FACTORS
After physical and psychological risk factors, there is a third category; social risk factors. Again you may wonder how can these impact on my back pain? Social factors do not necessarily impact on your back, but have an important role to play in how we respond to pain. Over the past decades, the medical profession has made great progress and we can now treat many conditions that were previously untreatable. The same expectation that everything can be treated exists for pain. However it has also become clear that a (back) pain free society does not exist. But this does not mean we should accept the burden that pain gives us. It has become clear that by showing people how to respond to pain, we can control pain and live a life that is not restricted by pain.
"There are cultural differences in how back pain is perceived"
A famous example of this is from Australia; the aboriginals in Australia seek very little medical help for back pain compared to the other groups of the Australian population. However if you ask them, many will tell you that they have back pain. This shows a fundamental difference in how people respond to pain. Pain itself may be manageable but it becomes a much bigger problem when it impacts on our daily life and people become disabled as a result of back pain. This is when action is needed. Hopefully you now understand that back pain is a complex symptom that can be caused by a range of different factors and in most cases it is a combination of these factors that result in back pain becoming a real problem. Any attempt to control back pain should therefore address those factors that are important and relevant to you.
With thanks to BackCare, the charity for healthier backs.