Back pain sufferers depression candidates

PEOPLE living with back problems are 2.5 times more likely to experience a depressive disorder than the wider population, according to a report released by the Federal Government's Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

One in 11 Australians - or 1.8 million people - had back problems in 2007-08, which related to bones, joints, connective tissue, muscles and nerves.

Past studies estimate 86% of sufferers experienced pain one day a week and 14% lived with persistent pain.

According to the report, people with back problems are 1.8 times as likely to report an anxiety disorder than the wider population.

They were also 1.3 times more likely to report a substance use disorder and 2.5 times more likely to experience an affective disorder, such as depression, bipolar affective disorder and mood disorders.

"Back problems are a common reason for pain among younger and middle-aged adults, but they can start early in life, between ages eight and 10," the report says.

Estimates indicate 70% to 90% of people suffer from lower-back pain at some point in their lives.

Orthopaedic surgeon and rheumatologist Associate Professor Markhus Melloh from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, said pain and mental health problems had a cause and effect relationship.

"About 50% of pain patients develop mental health issues after having chronic pain and about 50% have mental health issues before the onset of a chronic pain episode," he said.

Professor Melloh said it would be plausible that the stress of severe back pain caused mental health issues.

On the other hand, mental health issues could weaken the person's ability to deal with health problems and, in turn, increase the severity of their pain.

"In addition, people with mental health issues might be more sensitive to pain and have a lower pain threshold," he said.

Dr Michael Vagg, pain specialist and clinical senior lecturer at Deakin University, said many patients recovered well after back pain but those who developed chronic pain required a different treatment.

"In the pain-management world, reducing disability and improving quality of life even if the pain is not reduced is a major goal," he said.

"We have 30 years of high-quality evidence that most chronic pain sufferers don't need to see a major reduction in pain to have useful improvements in their quality of life and mental health, as long as they have access to the most effective training in self-management techniques."

Topics:  depression health

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