Back pain is a common complaint in community pharmacy. So who better than community pharmacists to handle it?
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 137 million working days were lost to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016, the equivalent of 4.3 days per worker.
Minor illnesses such as coughs and colds were the most common reason for the absences followed by musculoskeletal problems including back pain, neck and upper limb problems which accounted for 30.8 million days or 22.4% of absences.
Yet research by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) found “significant differences” in the proportion of people who suffer from back or neck pain in the UK. Rates between regions, it said, varied by more than 17%.
The results were eye-catching. Northern Ireland had the highest rate with 57% while the South East had the lowest proportion with 40%. The national average for the UK was 44%, a 12% increase in back and neck pain since 2017.
The research also found that people in the Midlands started suffering from pain at the earliest stage, with 70% experiencing back or neck pain by the age of 30. In the east of England that figure was 48%.
“Londoners are the most likely to take proactive steps to prevent back or neck pain before it occurs, closely followed by those in the South West,” the report said.
A third of people in Scotland were found to be suffering pain most frequently compared with 17% in London. The biggest culprit for back and neck pain was lifting and carrying followed by sitting still for long periods.
Catherine Quinn, president of the British Chiropractic Association, said: “This suggests the occurrence of back and neck pain has increased over the past year and it appears we should all be following the lead of the South East where they seem to be managing this best. Taking simple steps can be really effective in reducing your experience of back pain
“It’s interesting to note that certain regions are seeing back and neck pain among a much younger age group. Back and neck pain can of course develop at any age and is usually not serious, however this could be a sign that modern and increasingly sedentary lifestyles are impacting on the younger populations back health.
“Whatever your age, my top piece of advice for those experiencing back or neck pain would be to get out and about and ensure you are incorporating physical activity into your daily routines.
“There are also a number simple exercises and small changes you can use on a daily basis to prevent pain, for example, putting both hands on the back of your head, pushing your elbows back and then shrugging your shoulders whilst sitting or standing are easy ways to stay active – these may sound basic but I know from my patients that they really work.”
Prevention is always desirable in an NHS that is looking to make huge efficiency savings and pharmacists might have the following advice in mind for patients; take regular breaks from sitting and stand up and move around every 30 minutes; stay active and do some exercise such as swimming, walking or yoga; bend the knees not the waist when lifting heavy items; sleep in a comfortable position – and replace your mattress every years.
Ralgex brand manager Miriam Luff said: “With many people in desk-based jobs and living sedentary lifestyles, back pain has become increasingly common. As a result, community pharmacists are often required to offer over the counter advice and products to help prevent and treat chronic back pain.
“Prevention is always better than cure: leading a more active lifestyle, stretching and building muscle strength are all recommended by the NHS. However, even those who take these steps can still be affected by back pain leading them to turn to their community pharmacist for help.
“A portable and helpful solution community pharmacists can recommend is a muscle rub cream. Applied directly to the affected area, muscle rub creams soothe the area of pain by increasing blood flow and offering symptomatic relief of muscular aches, pains and stiffness, including backache, lumbago and fibromyalgia.”
Back pain at a glance
• 94% of people feel pain in their back.
• 82% of people feel pain in their lower back.
• Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
• Acute back pain – the most common type – lasts less than three months.