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Lower Spine News

Piecing Together the Disability Puzzle

"Low back pain remains a thorn in the side of modern medicine," write the authors of this article. It's no wonder. The causes of low back pain (LBP) can be difficult to diagnose, and LBP can be expensive and frustrating to treat. It also causes problems on the job with absenteeism, lost wages, and workers' compensation costs.

Determining the level of disability caused by LBP is an ongoing problem for health care providers. Tests such as X-rays and MRI scans don't always help doctors make a diagnosis. Research shows that the results of these tests can't predict levels of pain or disability. As a result, much research has focused on finding reliable ways to measure the disability caused by LBP. The researchers of this study looked at spine degeneration shown on X-rays to see if it related to levels of pain or disability.

This study included 172 patients with LBP. They answered questions about their pain and ability to do certain tasks. Patients also reported if their back pain was caused by an injury. Patients then had X-rays of taken of their lower back.

The authors found that the patients who reported a past back injury tended to have more degeneration in the joints of their spine. However, no differences were found in disability or pain levels between patients who had an injury and those who hadn't. There was also a weak link between how much pain a person had and the amount of degeneration seen on X-ray.

The authors conclude that much more research is needed to put together the pieces of the LBP disability puzzle. Researching disability is especially hard because there are often other factors involved. Consciously or unconsciously, patients commonly exaggerate their symptoms. In some cases, patients may want disability status in order to get time off work or to gain the upper hand in a lawsuit. The authors note that disability studies done in countries where lawsuits are common may influence research results.


Cynthia K. Peterson, RN, DC, DACBR, MMEd, et al. A Cross-Sectional Study Correlating Lumbar Spine Degeneration With Disability and Pain. In Spine. January 15, 2000. Vol. 25. No. 2. Pp. 218-223.

03/14/2001

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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