How much of back pain is real?

Background: Back pain (BP) is a frequent disorder affecting currently up to 40% of adults inWestern Europe. Most of it is said to be ‘non-specific’, i.e. lacking an obvious patho-anatomical explanation. It is seldom the consequence of a contagious diseasecaused by microorganisms. This does not exclude it from beingcommunicable if ‘communicable’ is to refer to somethingbeing transmitted by sharing or exchanging information.

Aim: To propose the hypothesis of BP being a communicable disease.

Methods and results: We base our hypothesis on a reanalysis of five German health surveys. They show a wide gap in BP prevalence between West and East Germany early after reunification. The gap consistently decreased to nearly zero in 2003. Work disability data followeda comparable course.

Discussion: Various processes may have contributed to the observed changes. Our hypothesis is corroborated by experimental research showing that BP-related beliefs, attitudes and behaviour could positively be influenced by media campaigns and by insights from another recent epidemic.

Source: “Back pain, a communicable disease?” from International Journal of Epidemiology 2008 37(1):69-74

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