We’ve all heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”, a metaphor to highlight the health risks of sitting still for long periods. Although the health risks are not quite the same, sitting for long periods has been highlighted as a risk factor for re-injuring your back. A new ground breaking study, based on the Sydney population investigated how likely you are to get low back pain after having a previous episode of back pain, and the results are surprisingly dismal.
Low back pain affects anywhere up to 95% of the population at one point in our life. Most episodes will resolve after 4 weeks. Chances are you are reading this because you have had it. The recurrence of low back pain after an episode is poorly understood however so researchers followed 236 patients from Sydney Physiotherapy and chiropractic clinics to assess how likely they were to re-develop low back pain. Participants were recruited from Physiotherapy and chiropractic clinics if they had an episode of low back pain that resolved completely. They were then followed up at monthly intervals over a 12 month period. The participants were asked if they had a recurrence of low back pain and were categorised into three groups:
- Recurrence of an episode of pain
- A low back pain episode causing a limitation in activity
- Low back pain significant enough to seek healthcare
To qualify as an episode of pain participants had to experience at least 24 hours of pain at a severity of at least 2/10 on a numerical pain rating scale. In the 12 months of investigating, a subsequent low back pain episode was reported in 69% of participants. This pain limited activity in 40% of participants, and 41% of participants sought healthcare within the 12 months of the study.
The data from this study was then used to help identify the potential influence of factors that may contribute to a subsequent episode of pain. One of these were sitting for more than 5 hours per day, a common activity in any office space. Interestingly sitting more than 5 hours per day was associated with a 50% higher risk of a subsequent episode of low back pain in the 12 months post injury.
The information in this study is important for helping predict likelihood of back pain in patients who have had a previous episode. Other studies highlight the importance of education and exercise in reduction of low back pain by 45%. By managing your sitting time, keeping active throughout the day and understanding the mechanics of your back pain you are less likely to develop future episodes of pain.
If you would like to experience less back pain and find out more about how to prevent future episodes come in and visit one of our Sydney Physiotherapists in the CBD.