Back Pain is Killing Us, Study Says

Back Pain is Killing Us, Study Says

By Staff

Researchers out of the University of Sydney published a study in the European Journal of Pain concluding that people with back pain have a 13 percent increased risk of dying (from any cause).

“Our study found that compared to those without spinal pain (back and neck), a person with spinal pain has a 13 per cent higher chance of dying every year. This is a significant finding as many people think that back pain is not life-threatening,” said senior author Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira, physiotherapy researcher from the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

The scientists studied 4,390 Danish twins aged 70 years and older to see if spinal pain increased the rate of all-cause and disease-specific cardiovascular mortality.

“As this study was done in twins, the influence of shared genetic factors is unlikely because it was controlled for in our analysis.”

“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,” he said.

Lead author Dr. Matthew Fernandez from the Faculty of Health Sciences, said: “With a rapidly growing ageing population, spinal health is critical in maintaining older age independence, highlighting the importance of spinal pain in primary health care as a presenting symptom.”

“Back pain should be recognized as an important co-morbidity that is likely to impact people’s longevity and quality of life.”

Associate Professor Ferreira added: “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.”

Recent research has also found that commonly prescribed medications for back pain are ineffective in treating pain and have side effects, as we’ve reported.

“Medications are mostly ineffective, surgery usually does not offer a good outcome – the best treatment for low back is a healthy lifestyle, including physical activity. People need to get moving,” Associate Professor Ferreira said.

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Authored by: Staff

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Jake H.

I read this article & the comments and can relate to just about every side of the argument. Debilitating pain is difficult enough without having to constantly battle the insurance companies, being treated like a criminal/drug seeker for a couple of Vicodin, and everything else that goes along with it. “Get moving” is good advice, but it is of course not the same for everyone. For example, the only exercise I can handle is in a warm pool at physical therapy. Even though it’s not very strenuous, It’s way better than laying on the couch. For some folks, get moving might mean walking from the kitchen to the bedroom or simply getting up to stretch every 30 minutes.

The most frustrating part of this whole epidemic of chronic back pain is the ignorance of the medical community. The link between chronic pain and stress/depression is no longer up for debate. It boggles my mind when I hear doctors recommend anti-depressant medications for back pain, stating that the reason it works is still unknown. Why do almost all sufferers of Fibromyalgia also deal with depression? Sure, the pain eventually causes depression for most, but most of the time it was there before. Over and over again I hear stories of people who get diagnosed with DDD, stenosis, pinched nerves, and on and on. Just because an abnormality is seen on an MRI, that does not prove it is causing pain. So many unnecessary surgeries are performed each year by irresponsible surgeons making these assumptions.

Every medical student in this country should be required to read Dr. John Sarno’s book: Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection. Read this with an open mind and it will change your life.

Tim Lackey

Well I’ve heard it all. Keep moving? Medicine ( opiods) Dont work for back pain? What about pinched nerves do to Degenerate disc disease? You people get me.10 yes of school& you figured it out. I went to work in the theatre as a stage hand at age 15 in 1979. I split my abdominal wall& destroyed my Back in the process saving two workers who tripped over each others feet after working a 19hr day.the would of been crushed.. That happened in 1992.& I should never mention this? That’s all I did was move, that’s all I did was work.I worked for my money until I couldn’t work ever again.& without pain pills my Quality of life would be way worse.keep moving? Sorry all my pinched nerves won’t let me.& my 5 granddaughter? Well I love to play with them& w/o them I might as well roll over & die. Who are you to tell me what I can do & what I can’t.& I never use street drugs, but what happens when you take them away? A lot of us are not addicts.we actually need them to withstain a certain Quality of life. I worked till 2010. I guess we shall just chant& meditate on it. You folks sure have it figured out.. Not!!!

gerard l becker

interesting–increase your level of activity(?) because surgery and / pain killers do not work so….flare increases! So reduce your exercise=deconditioning=more pain so change your life style and increase activity so…flare increases…welcome the negative feedback loop! But the the prof says we need to get moving so…get the point????????????? who write this stuff???????????????????

Bob is right this study is much too finite a slice of the population to have much definitive meaning regarding correlation vs causation. But they do say that more study needs to be done. So…

I always say “My back is killing me!” Maybe it actually is. Who knows?!

Jean Price

Well we all know back pain is killing us…due to the horrendous amount of pain some people are in who can no longer bear to live without pain medication! And with this pain medication being denied across the board…and people also being abandoned by the very ones who are supposed to treat us and even swore an oath to do no harm…suicide becomes their choice. A choice made rather than choosing to lie in excruciating UNTREATED pain…in bed day after day after day! Yet IS IT THE PAIN…OR the LACK OF CARE TO LESSEN THE PAIN that resulted in their deaths here? I’d say both, since they inseparable…due to the currrent mindset about pain medications…even used legally under a doctor’s care!! This is something that could be easily and appropriately fixed…with just common sense and compassion! And with looking at the proof of decades of effective pain relief opioids have given people…really for hundreds of years! Sad to think our health care providers and our government agencies are actually killing us by…well, what? Protecting us? Protecting society? No! By purely their greed and major misconceptions! By their inability to stop illegal drugs from flooding our streets! And by some wanting to cash in on addiction treatments! Aren’t they all as guilty as if they came to the houses and killed these people? I’d be hard put to say no! Whether this study is well designed and scientifically executed, it just makes good sense to consider back pain…all persistent pain…as a significant factor to increase morbidity!! It definitely increases the mortality rate of those who have it…just due to their inability to be active! We know sedentary life styles aren’t healthy, and can be a contributing factor to many diseases which can shorten life spans significantly. Plus the diseases which cause pain or the injuries can have a impact on overall health! Add in the stress of not receiving appropriate care that actually helps limit the pain and increase our activity level in general…and you have multiple health concerns which easily could shorten life! Let alone the suicides from those who can no longer bear their extreme levels of pain and have lost hope of receiving any help from medical providers! However, instead of finding out what pain does to hasten the end of life…wouldn’t it be nice if someone would get to the heart of pain itself…and research TRULY better non-invasive options for treatment of it!?! Or perhaps interview millions of patients to see what we think helps us keep going…and what things have way too many risks?? Would that really be too hard? Of course, this would have to point up how much opioids help us function better and live more productively… something no one else except patients in pain seem to know or want to hear, OR believe! And, well…it would cost a lot of money to research why pain happens and persists..but then so does pain itself! Right?! And so does the phoney war on drugs!! And… Read more »

Rhea B

We humans have a 100% possibility of dying every year, whether or not we have back pain.


While this study leaves much to be desired, pain is a warning sign and chronic pain exhausts the adrenal axis and puts stress on the heart releasing all sorts of chemicals within the body. Patients in less pain almost always have better results. The global push to ignore pain and the patients in it is unscientific it’s bad medicine and frankly inhumahe. While we have humane societies for animals, we no longer have doctors or society advocating the humane treatment of humanity.

Tim Mason

Good Point Bob.


I just read this and really got upset. What are you saying, people need to get moving. Obviously you are ignorant to the fact that we do move!!!!!!!!! It’s just painful for us. I have bad back problems and went and bought a walking treadmill. I got on it and afterwards, I was in so much pain for so many days and didn’t walk on it for a long period of time. So, please that like people with back problems just sit around and complain and do nothing.

Laura P Schulman, M.D.

Once again, attribution of cause conflated with an effect.

My father’s spine, my spine, and my son’s spine all began to fall apart due to degenerative changes, at age 30. All of us were competitive athletes at the time–not couch potatoes, as the article deems.

What if back pain is not caused by inactivity–but inactivity is caused by back pain?

Yes, people with back pain should maintain a healthy mass to minimize external forces on the spine. As a causative agent for degenerative spine disease….I doubt it. I think genetics is where to look.


“Medications are mostly ineffective, surgery usually does not offer a good outcome – the best treatment for low back is a healthy lifestyle, including physical activity. People need to get moving,” Associate Professor Ferreira said.”

And what if the person is confined to a desk job for a 10 hour day? And what is the back pain has progressed past the point of being able to be very active?? That comment was insensitive, at the least, possibly cruel. And it gets NO further on the subject of effective pain relief! I’m glad they are sounding the alarm about contributing to premature death, but that’s not a surprise to any of us. Is any organization really actively pushing for studies about pain meds right now?


The study was done on people age 70 & older….I hate to tell you but at that age they’re near the end of their life expectancy anyhow, don’t know how you can link back pain to their mortality.

I also take issue with your statement that “commonly prescribed medications for back pain are ineffective in treating pain and have side effects.” If by ineffective you mean medications don’t CURE back pain, you are correct. However, chronic back pain is NOT CURABLE, but it is treatable WITH pain medications to make life more manageable. Your simple-minded statement that people just need to “get moving” is OFFENSIVE TO CHRONIC PAIN PATIENTS EVERYWHERE.

Bob Schubring

This study was done in Denmark, a European nation where much ethanol is consumed recreationally. Opioids are unsafe to take while drinking ethanol, because the combination causes low blood pressure and slow respiration. This creates a patient preference for drugs like naproxen sodium that are less acutely toxic when used with ethanol.

The danger is that naproxen sodium and ethanol are both toxic to the kidneys. Taking them together for a chronic back pain is a risk for kidney failure.

Because this study was poorly designed, it provides no insight into whether the cause of the back pain was understood, whether it was well-treated, and whether these patients were alcoholic.