Low back pain presents a significant global challenge, affecting over 570 million individuals worldwide. In the United States, healthcare spending on low back pain totaled $134.5 billion from 1996 to 2016, with costs on the rise.

On a positive note, Professor Lorimer Moseley from the University of South Australia highlights that most instances of back pain resolve, even after persisting for several months. However, the downside is that prolonged back pain beyond a few months drastically reduces the likelihood of recovery, underscoring the variability in outcomes among individuals.

A systematic review and meta-analysis, involving 95 studies, aimed to elucidate the clinical trajectory of acute (< 6 weeks), subacute (6 to < 12 weeks), and persistent (12 to < 52 weeks) low back pain. The findings revealed that while pain and mobility issues improve significantly within the first 6 weeks for those with new back pain, the pace of recovery slows thereafter.

This study addressed a gap from a 2012 paper by the same research team, unveiling that many individuals with persistent low back pain continue to experience moderate-to-high levels of pain and disability, even after the initial injury has healed. This persistence of pain is attributed to pain system hypersensitivity rather than ongoing back injury, especially in cases of chronic back pain lasting beyond a few months.

Professor Moseley emphasizes the need for novel approaches to managing chronic back pain, advocating for treatments that target both the brain and body. These treatments aim to gradually reduce pain system sensitivity while enhancing functionality and engagement in meaningful activities.

Recognizing slowed recovery in individuals with subacute low back pain is crucial for timely escalation of care and mitigation of the risk of persistent pain. Further research into treatments is warranted to address this prevalent and debilitating condition, especially in younger and older populations.


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