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Back Pain and Quality of Life

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 8 Jul 2012 | comments*Discuss
Back Pain Quality Of Life Back Ache

Having back ache now and again is inconvenient and annoying but many people suffer chronic back pain, which can last for weeks, months, or even years. Severe back pain limits movement and activity, restricting people in the work that they can do and in their leisure activities. It can cause problems in family life – someone with chronic disabling back pain finds it difficult to work productively, is often tired and irritable because back pain keeps them awake at night and cannot contribute to looking after small children and household chores.

All of this adds up to a serious impact on quality of life. But just how much quality of life does chronic back pain take away and how is it improved by different treatments? To answer these questions scientifically, researchers have devised special tools using carefully constructed questionnaires.

Assessing the Impact of Back Pain on Life Quality

The most widely used tool is called the Sickness Impact Profile-Roland Scale, or SIP-Roland Scale for short. The Sickness Impact Profile was already in existence and has been used to rate the impact of various illnesses on quality of life but it was modified by Professor Martin Roland at the University of Manchester in the UK specifically for this purpose. The SIP-Roland scale for back pain just targets all of the questions directly towards back ache.

The scale measures the responses to 24 different statements, such as “Because of my back, I go upstairs more slowly than usual” and “I only walk short distances because of my back”. If the person being assessed thinks that the statement applies to them at the time they are being tested, they place a tick by the statement. The greater the number of ticks, the higher the impact of their back pain on their quality of life.

Use of the SIP-Roland Scale

Many studies have validated the SIP-Roland scale – they have applied the test to people with and without back pain, and with other illnesses and have shown that this is a very good measure of how people are affected by their back ache. It has been used to identify if new pain killers or treatments being tested in clinical trials are able to improve quality of life by reducing back pain.

Other Quality of Life Scales Used in Back Pain

Although the SIP-Roland scale is the most widely used, there are others, including the Pain Disability Index, the Oswestry Low Back Pain Disability Questionnaire, the Multidimensional Pain Inventory, the Pain Cognition Questionnaire, the Coping Strategies Questionnaire and the Chronic Illness Problem Inventory.

The Value of Assessing Quality of Life

It is important to use these tools to check on the loss of quality of life that back pain is causing in people over time. Those who report a very low quality of life as a result of back ache and lack of mobility are more likely to overuse pain killing medication, leading to further health problems. They are also less likely to be able to work regularly, so face financial problems, and their risk of depression and mental illness is much higher. Treating lower back pain effectively can help to improve quality of life and prevent the person experiencing this general decline in their overall health.

Recent Findings with Quality of Life Information

One of the most recent studies to use quality of life assessment looked at the value of glucosamine, a health supplement that claims to reduce lower back pain. A study carried out in Norway looked at quality of life responses in people at the start of the study and through a six month period when they were taking glucosamine and for another six months after they stopped taking it. The treatment group was compared with a control group who didn’t take the supplement. At the end of the study, when the results were analysed, it was clear that there was no significant different in the quality of life in people with back pain who took glucosamine compared to those who didn’t take it. This doesn’t mean that the supplement won’t help at all – it may protect cartilage in joints to some extent – but in the short term, it has no impact on back pain and quality of life, so cannot make this claim.

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