Inability to prevent back pain when lifting heavy objects

Common recommendations to prevent back pain have no benefit, according to this review of the medical literature.

First, the details from Biology News Net based on the British Medical Journal article.

  • Researchers reviewed 11 studies.
    • 8 dealt with health workers who manually handled patients.
    • The other 3 looked at baggage handlers and postal workers.
  • None of the workers in the studies were actively seeking treatment for back pain.

And, the results.

  • Training had no effect on the occurrence of back pain.
  • Training compared to minor advice (a video) had no effect on back pain after a year.
  • No difference in back pain between training and being given back belts to wear.
  • Training and physical exercise had no effect on back pain during a year of follow-up.
  • Finally, no difference between training and using an assistive device compared to training only or no intervention.

The bottom line.
It should be mentioned that these findings are based on few (sometimes just one) studies.

The authors concluded that we need a better understanding of the relationship between exposure to stresses on the back at work and the subsequent development of back pain in order to develop new and innovative ways of preventing back pain because of lifting.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Niels Wedderkopp from the University of Southern Denmark says “the current advice for people with back pain to stay active may not be appropriate for people whose work involves heavy lifting.”

He speculates, “A change of job and (prudently) staying active in daily life may be the best way for these patients to regain command of their back and their occupation.”

Maybe, but for the average person with back pain, changing jobs a pretty extreme form of treatment. Where’s the study to prove that strategy?

2/22/08 16:38 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.