A relief? Lower back pain unlikely to mean cancer
Your lower back pain may be killing you, but there’s some good news: Such pain is very unlikely to mean serious problems such as broken vertebrae or cancer, according to a study by Australian researchers.
Dr. Christopher G. Maher, from The George Institute of International Health in Sydney, and colleagues studied 1172 patients who came to general practitioners, physical therapists, or chiropractors with a new complaint of lower back pain.
The patients were monitored for 12 months to look for broken bones, infection, arthritis, or cancer was the cause.
“Many people worry that their back pain may be an indicator of something more serious,” Maher noted in an email to Reuters Health. But among all 1,172 patients, only 11 cases were anything serious at all, and eight of those 11 were broken vertebrae.
Such fractures are serious, but are “not serious life-threatening diseases,” Maher said. “There were no cases of cancer and no cases of infection.”
Still, doctors found reasons to be concerned about serious conditions in about 80 percent of the patients with lower back pain, suggesting that such red flags many not be red flags at all.
In fact, “we found that many of the red flags currently being used by practitioners are not helpful indicators, as they are present in many people who are free of disease and potentially can set off a false alarm,” Maher said.
Based on the study, Maher suggested that doctors look for four characteristics—female sex, age older than 70, significant trauma, and prolonged use of steroids such as prednisone - before sounding any alarm bells. Patients with all four of those signs were much more likely to have serious problems.
SOURCE: Arthritis and Rheumatism, October 2009.
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