Study: Severe Back Pain in Women Linked to Higher Risk of Mortality

April 26, 2021
Skylar Kenney, Assistant Editor

This is the first systematic literature review on the association of back pain and mortality.

A new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine identified a link between severe back pain and elevated mortality risk for women. No such association was found between back pain and mortality in men.

The study suggests mild, non-debilitating back pain is unlikely to influence the length of a patient’s life, but the risk of mortality increased among adults with more severe pain. The researchers said potential explanations for the connection include limitations in the activities of daily living and reduced physical activity that may lead to weight gain and the development or worsening of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease. There is also an association between back pain, poor balance, and falls, which can result in fragility fractures. These fractures are also associated with increased mortality.

“I hope this study will lead to a better understanding of the long-term impacts of activity-limiting back pain on overall health and research to improve back pain treatment over the course of patients' lives,” said Eric Roseen, DC, MSc, director of the program for integrative medicine and health disparities at Boston Medical Center and an assistant professor of family medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, in a press release. “Proper management of back pain is important, especially as the opioid epidemic has been exacerbated and the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people seeking medical care, stress-levels and the environments in which many Americans are working right now.”

According to the study authors, this is the first systematic literature review on the association of back pain and mortality, which was followed by a meta-analysis of all-cause mortality in 11 studies with 81,337 middle-aged and older adults. Age was not found to have an effect on the association between back pain and mortality in this study, in contrast to previous studies showing the impact of back pain on disability increases with age.

The researchers said that future studies should focus on the complex relationship between back pain, back pain treatment, mental health, disability, and mortality.

REFERENCE

Back pain shows association with increased mortality risk in women [news release]. EurekAlert; April 20, 2021. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-04/bmc-bps042021.php