People who are physically active, but not involved in heavy workloads or high-level sporting pursuits, are typically at the lowest risk of experiencing back pain.

Deakin researchers shed light on back pain myths

August 29, 2019 BY

A team of researchers from Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) have found no association between prolonged sitting and lower back pain despite widely shared opinions.

The surprising revelation is the result of three decades worth of data collection from more than one million subjects, with the IPAN group sorting through 41 systemic reviews in a bid to understand what movements or tasks could pose risks for back pain.

The “mega-study” has provided “the most” comprehensive analysis of the correlation between certain activities and back pain.

IPAN Associate Professor of exercise and musculoskeletal health Daniel Belavy said although there’s a growing body of evidence linking sitting to other negative health effects, inactivity while sitting does not appear to be a risk factor for back pain.

“While you may get muscle tightness when you sit for a long time, sitting itself doesn’t actually damage the spinal structures directly,” he said.

On the flip side, heavy physical work and lifting were associated with back pain in the review, however it’s still not clear that they could cause it.

“Both of those things might sound the same, but it’s one thing to find an ‘association’ and quite another thing to prove ‘causality’,” he said.

“It’s important we keep working to better understand the mechanisms behind lower back pain.

“For those under 50, back pain causes the greatest loss of productivity of all diseases in Australia, and 16 per cent of Australians will develop persistent back pain at some point in their life.”

Associate Professor Belavy said while it was good news sitting time didn’t seem to be an issue for back pain, he discouraged long bouts of sitting.

“From other work, we know that general physical activity is important for reducing the risk of back pain,” he said.

“And we know from other research conducted within IPAN and elsewhere that reducing time spent sitting lowers the risks of other chronic conditions. So those in office jobs shouldn’t get too comfortable at their desks just yet.”