Movement as medicine: Exercise best for back pain, according to new health care guidelines

New guidelines developed by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care recommend people experiencing lower back pain should focus on movement as therapy, and dismiss painkillers and rest as inadequate remedies.

As reported in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, the guidelines follow similar changes in other areas of medicine, including limited physical activity being increasingly recommended for people undergoing chemotherapy and after surgery.

‘We are recognising that activity is really important… it helps you stay strong and that is going to speed up your recovery,’ said Associate Professor Liz Marles, clinical director at the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, which developed the Low Back Pain Clinical Care Standard.

It comes amid concern about over-reliance on opioid medication to relieve symptoms and the rapid increase in the use of CT scans, which the creators of the new standard say can lead to unnecessary concern and diagnosis.

‘For the majority of people with back pain, what you see on a scan is not predictive of their pain,’ said Professor Peter O’Sullivan, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist.

‘People get given this diagnostic label, and then they are frightened, so they stop working and moving, and none of that helps their pain.

‘Moving and engaging in life is the very thing that will help you build your confidence. 

‘Get your back healthy, get it strong, and get back to living again.’

A University of Sydney study examining data from NSW public emergency departments found the number of people admitted for lower back pain rose between 2016 and 2019, with more than 176,000 presentations and 44,500 admissions.

Another study by the same researchers across three large Australian emergency departments from 2016 to 2018 found 70 per cent of people presenting to hospital with lower back pain were prescribed opioids.

One of the authors of the research, Professor Chris Maher, this year received a $2.8 million federal government Medical Research Future Fund grant to pilot a model of care that better integrates physiotherapy services in emergency departments. The pilot will be run at Sydney’s Canterbury Hospital later this year, with plans to do a larger trial across seven other hospitals.

To read the full new guidelines, please visit https://www.safetyandquality.gov.au/standards/clinical-care-standards/low-back-pain-clinical-care-standard

New guidelines developed by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care recommend people experiencing lower back pain should focus on movement as therapy, and dismiss painkillers and rest as inadequate remedies.

As reported in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, the guidelines follow similar changes in other areas of medicine, including limited physical activity being increasingly recommended for people undergoing chemotherapy and after surgery.

‘We are recognising that activity is really important… it helps you stay strong and that is going to speed up your recovery,’ said Associate Professor Liz Marles, clinical director at the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, which developed the Low Back Pain Clinical Care Standard.

It comes amid concern about over-reliance on opioid medication to relieve symptoms and the rapid increase in the use of CT scans, which the creators of the new standard say can lead to unnecessary concern and diagnosis.

‘For the majority of people with back pain, what you see on a scan is not predictive of their pain,’ said Professor Peter O’Sullivan, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist.

‘People get given this diagnostic label, and then they are frightened, so they stop working and moving, and none of that helps their pain.

‘Moving and engaging in life is the very thing that will help you build your confidence. 

‘Get your back healthy, get it strong, and get back to living again.’

A University of Sydney study examining data from NSW public emergency departments found the number of people admitted for lower back pain rose between 2016 and 2019, with more than 176,000 presentations and 44,500 admissions.

Another study by the same researchers across three large Australian emergency departments from 2016 to 2018 found 70 per cent of people presenting to hospital with lower back pain were prescribed opioids.

One of the authors of the research, Professor Chris Maher, this year received a $2.8 million federal government Medical Research Future Fund grant to pilot a model of care that better integrates physiotherapy services in emergency departments. The pilot will be run at Sydney’s Canterbury Hospital later this year, with plans to do a larger trial across seven other hospitals.

To read the full new guidelines, please visit https://www.safetyandquality.gov
.au/standards/clinical-care-standards/low-back-pain-clinical-care-standard

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