Myths are a pain in the back, let's bust them


It’s Back Care Awareness Week and Professor Karen Middleton, chief executive of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), talks us through the myths surrounding back pain and what can be done to improve the recovery time for those suffering with it. 

Back pain is a widespread problem that affects most people at some point in their life. It is a heavy burden on individuals, the NHS and wider society, as related sickness absence costs the UK economy £5bn. Back Care Awareness Week gives us an important opportunity to talk about our backs and what the evidence says is best for them.

We should act now!

Firstly, it's time to challenge the most common myths the public hold about what we should and shouldn’t do, when we have back pain and the CSP recently launched myth busters campaign aims to do just that.

The four biggest myths are: 
  • Moving will make my back pain worse.
  • I should avoid exercise.
  • A scan will show me exactly what's wrong. 
  • Pain equals damage. 
These misconceptions clash with the facts and risk holding people back in their recovery. Put simply, keeping active works.
Physiotherapists have been out and about in communities across the country challenging these myths and CCGs have been taking to Twitter to share them too. The conversation must continue.

Secondly, the NHS should lead the way. The biggest employer in the country has a huge stake in improving back health, as well as a duty. Patients deserve and need NHS professionals to be fit for the frontline. NHS commissioners and providers can not only be part of busting myths; they can actually do more – by delivering new support services to their staff.

The 2015 NHS staff survey reported that, on average, 25 per cent of NHS staff had experienced musculoskeletal (MSK) issues due to work related activities in the last 12 months. This amounts to a total of some 325,000 staff.

There are some great examples of trusts, and indeed other employers beyond the health world, that are recognising the benefits of such approaches.

Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust has saved more than £675,000 and reduced sickness absence among its staff by improving access to physiotherapy and NHS England has rightly pushed staff wellbeing up the agenda with a new £450m Commissioning for Quality and Innovation Payment Scheme that can be used to provide services like self-referral to physiotherapy. 

Trusts must seize the chance with both hands.

Finally, the public needs better access to treatment and advice when experiencing back pain. The CSP has long been calling for more physiotherapists to work in GP surgeries as the first point of contact for patients with MSK conditions.

With GPs facing growing demand, physiotherapists have the skills to assess and diagnose a patient at their first appointment, so that their rehabilitation begins immediately, often avoiding expensive and time-consuming onward referrals and enabling people to get back to work.

The financial case stacks up too. Our physiotherapy cost calculator shows that a typical GP practice could save around £2,500 a week by sending patients with MSK conditions to see a physio rather than a GP.

Physiotherapists are available in an increasing number of surgeries and - with backing for this idea from the Government, the BMA, Arthritis Research UK and others - we are campaigning for it to be rolled out. We do not have to put up with the personal and economic costs of back pain – the solutions are out there.

Together let’s make a start by busting the big back pain myths and championing what works.

Professor Karen Middleton
Chief executive, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

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