Back to Basics! Medical research is vital to unlock the mystery and misery of back pain | Action Medical Research

Back to Basics! Medical research is vital to unlock the mystery and misery of back pain

22 October 2001
We will never cure distressing back pain without widespread commitment to medical research, say scientists. Speaking out to coincide with the UK’s national awareness day on back care (Tuesday October 30th), the researchers say that improvements have been made in managing back pain - a condition which is extremely costly, both physically and financially. But they add that the key to unlocking the exact causes of debilitating back pain have yet to be discovered. Dr Stephen Eisenstein is part of a team leading a three-year study into back pain at the Centre for Spinal Studies in Oswestry, Shropshire, which is funded by leading medical research charity Action Research. Dr Eisenstein, consultant spinal surgeon and director of the Centre says: ‘It’s amazing that the human race is ingenious and resourceful enough to put someone on the moon. Yet we know so little about such a common condition that affects 2.5 million people every day of the year.’ He adds that funding and commitment to research is paramount, as well as increased awareness. ‘Despite back pain being so widespread and costly to the individual and society as a whole, back pain rarely receives the attention and resources given to other conditions’, he says. John Grounds, director of campaigns and communications for Action Research, adds: ‘There are 300,000 people off work every day with backache and yet our understanding of what exactly causes the pain remains poor.’ Action Research, which is approaching its 50th anniversary, is dedicated to overcoming disease and disability and is currently funding two research projects into back pain totalling more than £133,500. One of these is based at the Centre for Spinal Studies, at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic and District Hospital in Oswestry and is worth more than £95,000. Dr Eisenstein is working alongside Dr Sally Roberts and Dr Eustace Johnson, and the team is exploring changes in the intervertebral discs (discs of the spine) which are thought to be important in causing back pain, either directly or indirectly. The research is being published in the journal Spine later this year, and Dr Johnson will be presenting a paper on it at the American Society of Neuroscience meeting in San Diego in November. Dr Johnson explains the study: *A normal adult disc only has nerves in its outer regions, whereas degenerate discs, removed from people with back pain, have been invaded by nerves throughout - possibly contributing to the development of low back pain. *Unfortunately we don’t yet understand what allows or encourages nerves to grow in older, diseased discs, and restricts them in healthy discs. *However the team - helped by researchers in Cardiff, Keele and Kentucky, USA - have been exploring the role of a particular component of these discs, called proteoglycans, which the scientists recently discovered have an inhibitory effect on nerve growth. ‘These findings may be important’, says Dr Johnson, ‘Because one of the most common changes seen during disc degeneration is a loss of proteoglycan. ‘By understanding this process better we hope it could lead to ways of counteracting it, and therefore offer better treatments to alleviate back pain.’ Action Research Touching Lives Campaign aims to raise £2m for vital medical research. For more details For press enquires, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email Fact file: *If you have back pain you are not alone. Almost two-thirds of adults in the UK have had experience of back pain. *Back pain is the nation’s leading cause of disability, with 1.1million people disabled by it. *At least 5 million adults consult their GP annually concerning back pain. This leads to costs in primary care of £140.6m *NHS physiotherapy costs are estimated at £150.6m. (All figures according to statistics provided by BackCare) *Dr Johnson and his team’s paper, Immunohistochemical Detection of Schwann Cells in Innervated and Vascularized Human Intervertebral Discs is being published in Spine (Volume 26, number 23 2001). *Action Research is currently funding another project in Aberdeen, which is evaluating posture control and co-ordination treatments for patients with low back pain, in an effort to help prevent the development of secondary injuries and chronic problems. *Be BackCare Aware Day (October 30th 2001) is organised by BackCare, the national organisation for healthy backs. For more details contact 0208 977 5474
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