Education beats back pain

A
study has confirmed that public education is effective in improving back pain
problems

Large-scale
public education campaigns designed to improve knowledge and awareness of back
pain can influence how doctors treat the condition, help reduce disability and
cut the number of workers’ compensation claims, research has suggested.

The
study by doctors in Victoria, Australia, performed a before and after survey in
4,730 members of the general population and 2,556 GPs in two states to evaluate
the effect of a public health campaign using the media in 1997.

Television
commercials gave advice on staying active and not resting for prolonged periods
and of the benefits of remaining at work.

The
campaign included billboard advertising, workplace visits and published
articles. An educational booklet was also made widely available.

As
a result, beliefs about back pain improved among the general public and
doctors, while there was a decline in the number of claims for back pain, rates
of days compensated and medical payments for claims for back pain.

And
in a separate study, doctors in Finland and Canada have found "strong
evidence" that intensive multidisciplinary bio-psychosocial rehabilitation
with functional restoration can improve function in patients with disabling
lower back pain for more than three months.

The
study of 1,964 patients reported some evidence of improvements in work
readiness, although in other patients there was no significant reduction in
sick leave.

"Intensive
multidisciplinary biopsychosocial rehabilitation with functional restoration
reduces pain and improves function in patients with chronic low back pain. Less
intensive interventions did not show improvements in clinically relevant
outcomes," it concludes.

Iain
McIntyre, a member of the Department of Health’s NHS Plus/Workforce team, said
occupational health had traditionally had a low profile with GPs in this
country. "It is not something they immediately think about when they see
patients," he said.

While
there were no plans for similar-scale public education campaigns in the UK, the
department’s Back in Work initiative, which has been looking at the issue,
would hopefully, over time, help to raise awareness.

www.bmj.com

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