Monia Lusini comments on a recently published study about patient’s perception of back pain

How well can the clinician appreciate the patient’s perception of the severity and impact of their back problem?” was recently published in the European Spine Journal. The study was carried out in two collaborating centres (in Switzerland and Italy) and involved five consultant spine specialists and 108 of their patients who had presented for treatment due to a low back disorder.

This cross-sectional study compares patients’ and physicians’ ratings made on the same day of the consultation for treatment.

Let’s make a premise. Good doctor-patient communication allows patients to share vital information regarding the nature of their problem, which is essential for an accurate diagnosis.

“Effective communication has been associated with improvements in patient satisfaction, greater adherence to treatment plans, better and more appropriate medical decisions, and improved clinical outcomes, ” explains Dr. Monia Lusini, an orthopaedic doctor and one of the research study’s authors. One of the main concerns of patients with back problems is typically their back and/or leg pain (together with its origin) and its impact on their function and quality of life. These subjective data must be considered during the visit so that the specialist can verify their impact on the patient’s daily life and decide on the best treatment path.”.

The study evaluated the agreement between clinicians’ and patients’ independent ratings of patient status on the Core Outcome Measures Index (COMI). The Core Outcome Measures Index for the back (COMI back) is a short, validated, multidimensional outcome instrument with excellent clinimetric properties.

The study shows that doctors could ascertain the location of the main complaint of their patients with good accuracy; however, they systematically underestimated the severity of the patient’s leg pain and dissatisfaction with their current symptom state and overestimated how much the patient’s function was impaired.

This is probably because at the time of the visit, the patient is no longer in the acute phase of pain and functional impotence that he was forced to experience in the previous days, but the memory is still vivid. Often, it is the patient himself who is amazed at how he can move during the visit compared to just a day or two before.
The COMI questionnaire is, however, fundamental for these patients to understand the difference in quality of life and pain before and after the prescribed and performed therapy.

“More detailed or direct questioning on these domains during the consultation might deliver a better appreciation of the impact of the back problem on the patient’s daily life,” concludes Dr. Lusini.”

Scoliosis and back pain: physical activity is the best prevention

In the world’s richest countries, low back pain is so common that it has become one of the leading causes of disability and healthcare expenditure. Back pain in children should be taken seriously as it can reduce the amount of physical exercise they get, result in absences from school, and limit them in their everyday activities.

These brief opening remarks prompt a series of questions that our physiotherapist, Martina Poggio, here tries to answer in the light of the latest published data regarding a possible link with adolescent scoliosis.

How prevalent is low back pain in children and adolescents? 

In recent decades, a high prevalence (39.9%) of low back pain has been found in children and adolescents: one study found back pain to be associated with age (>12 years), a family history of the condition, spending more than two hours a day studying or watching TV, having an uncomfortable desk at school, suffering from generalised pain, and sleep problems. Evidence on the impact of heavy backpacks is conflicting.2

How common is idiopathic scoliosis among adolescents with back pain? 

Aetiologically speaking (in other words, when examining the possible causes of the condition), one retrospective study, conducted in almost 2000 patients under the age of 21 years, found the following underlying conditions: scoliosis, followed by Scheuermann’s disease and spondylolisthesis.1 However, since the role of spinal deformities in back pain is unclear, we reviewed recent literature on the association between pain and the most common adolescent spinal deformity, i.e., idiopathic scoliosis, which affects 1 to 3% of adolescents. Although idiopathic scoliosis was considered painless condition until a few decades ago, more recently patients seem to show a higher prevalence of back pain. What is not clear, however, is whether there is a marked association between this symptom and the spinal deformity. In studies specifically exploring its prevalence in adolescents with scoliosis, the rates range considerably: from 23% to 85%.

Does the severity of the curve correlate with pain intensity? 

One of main reasons for scepticism over a possible association between pain and scoliosis is the current debate in the literature on the link between the severity of the deformity and the intensity of the pain, and the association, more convincing, between pain and psychological factors (such as self-image and mental health status). Indeed, some patients with less pronounced curves showed more intense pain and vice versa, suggesting that spinal morphology is not the only factor at play.4

Some evidence from the literature suggests that the association between pain and scoliosis is not strongly linked to a biomechanical problem. Indeed, in most studies, pain did not correlate strongly with the magnitude of the curve (Cobb angle); untreated cases did reasonably well from a back pain perspective; epidemiological data revealed a much greater gender difference in scoliosis as opposed to back pain incidence; and patients’ self-image was found to be related to their pain. All these findings argue against a strong aetiological role of idiopathic scoliotic deformity in adolescent back pain.

Does back pain in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis predispose them to pain in adulthood? What factors predispose adolescents with scoliosis to developing back pain?

In adolescents, early onset and persistence of back pain appear to be predictors of future back pain. A retrospective study showed that patients with thoracic scoliosis noted in their medical records were four times more likely to experience thoracic pain than those with no thoracic curve.5 Patients with scoliosis and back pain, compared with asymptomatic scoliosis patients, showed poorer physical function and sleep problems. Given that back pain has multiple causes, it is necessary to take into account depression, anxiety, catastrophising (i.e., having an exaggeratedly negative mindset towards actual or anticipated pain), and level of physical activity: all these factors can influence the perception and perpetuation of pain. 4,5 

In conclusion

“What recent studies show is that it is crucial to evaluated the youngster’s overall health in order to correctly evaluate back pain or possible risk factors,” explains Martina Poggio. “That means not just performing a physical assessment and encouraging the patient to get regular physical exercise, but also a psychological one, evaluating their self-perception and looking for anxiety, depression and drowsiness. These factors, although they may seem secondary in a case of scoliosis, could predispose the individual to the onset of back pain. Finally, it’s important to remind youngsters and their families that current data show no clear correlation between the deformity and pain, only that some people are more predisposed to pain”.

  1. “Prevalence of low back pain in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis: a systematic review” Jean Théroux, Norman Stomski, Christopher J. Hodgetts, Ariane Ballard, Christelle Khadra, Sylvie Le May  and Hubert Labelle Chiropractic & Manual Therapies (2017)
  2. “Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and back pain” Federico Balagué and Ferran Pellisé Scoliosis and Spinal Disorders (2016)
  3. “Back Pain in Children and Adolescents” Suraj Achar, Jarrod Yamanaka. Am Fam Physician (2020).
  4. “Back pain in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis: the contribution of morphological and psychological factors” Alisson R. Teles, · Maxime St‐Georges, · Fahad Abduljabbar, · Leonardo Simões, · Fan Jiang, Neil Saran, · Jean A. Ouellet, · Catherine E. Ferland. European Spine Journal (2020)
  5. “How Common Is Back Pain and What Biopsychosocial Factors Are Associated With Back Pain in Patients With Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis?” Arnold Y. L. Wong , MPhil, Dino Samartzis , Prudence W. H. Cheung, Jason Pui Yin Cheung  Clin Orthop Relat Res (2019)
  6. “Prevalence of low back pain in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis: a systematic review” Jean Théroux, Norman Stomski, Christopher J. Hodgetts, Ariane Ballard, Christelle Khadra, Sylvie Le May and Hubert Labelle. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies (2017)
  7. “Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and back pain” Federico Balagué and Ferran Pellisé. Scoliosis and Spinal Disorders (2016)
  8. “Back pain in children and adolescents” Suraj Achar, Jarrod Yamanaka. American Family Physician (2020)
  9. “Back pain in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis: the contribution of morphological and psychological factors” Alisson R. Teles, Maxime St‐Georges, Fahad Abduljabbar, Leonardo Simões, Fan Jiang, Neil Saran, Jean A. Ouellet, Catherine E. Ferland. European Spine Journal (2020)
  10. “How Common Is Back Pain and What Biopsychosocial Factors Are Associated With Back Pain in Patients With Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis?” Arnold Y. L. Wong, Dino Samartzis, Prudence W. H. Cheung, Jason Pui Yin Cheung. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research (2019)

Chronic back pain: how pain reprocessing can help

Back pain is one of the most frequent musculoskeletal diseases: low back pain is estimated to affect about 80% of the population at least once in their lifetime, and 20% once a year; the rates are higher among working people. 

Acute pain generally disappears spontaneously within a month; however, in a small percentage of people, this does not happen and the pain tends to become chronic, i.e., to last for more than 3 months, even following the resolution of the underlying condition.

Tissue injury can cause acute (“immediate”) pain. In this type of pain, termed nociceptive, pain signals are transmitted from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system areas responsible for pain processing.
This is what happens, for example, if we burn ourselves or sustain a traumatic tissue injury. In such cases, the pain usually disappears once the injury causing it heals.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, is a complex sensory and emotional experience.
We talk of chronic pain in situations where biological, psychological and social changes taking place after an injury or illness complicate the clinical picture so much that it becomes difficult to establish the initial cause of the pain and identify clearly the different mechanisms underlying it. 

In such cases, pain thresholds are lowered and even non-painful stimuli are perceived as painful. At the same time, more and more brain areas begin receiving pain signals from the periphery. The whole body goes into a state of high alert, becoming rather like an oversensitive alarm system that “goes off” at the slightest thing, even when there is no real danger present.

Pain that has become chronic is also accompanied by symptoms of anxiety and depression: affected individuals struggle to tolerate their condition, often thinking about their pain all the time, and believing that nothing can be done to solve the problem. This “catastrophising”, rather like when you are unable to see anything positive in a situation, itself plays a part in making pain chronic, i.e., a habitual state, something that is there all the time. 

So how can we help these patients? “The best way, also according to the evidence in the literature, is active physiotherapy, in other words, specific exercises” says ISICO physiatrist Dr Giulia Rebagliati. “The important thing is for the specialist to evaluate, together with the patient, the mechanisms and factors that favour the maintenance of the pain. The aim, through a cognitive behavioural approach, and by working together, is to replace recurrent thoughts and erroneous ideas with more functional pain and movement processing patterns.”

Absolutely, because, as remarked by our physiotherapist Martina Poggio, “without evaluating biopsychosocial factors that can contribute to the maintenance of pain, it is difficult for the therapist, together with the patient, to work out a long-term and truly effective treatment”.

An interesting article was recently published on this complex topic (Ashar YK, Gordon A, Schubiner H, et al. Effect of Pain Reprocessing Therapy vs Placebo and Usual Care for Patients With Chronic Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2022). In it, the authors examined the efficacy of psychological pain reprocessing therapy (PRT) that sought to change patients’ beliefs about the causes and maintenance of pain. 

The researchers studied 151 individuals aged 21 to 70 years who had suffered from back pain for at least half the days in the previous 6 months, and had an average pain intensity score of at least 4 out of 10 (where 0 is painless and 10 is the maximum bearable). The participants were then randomly divided into three groups.

The participants randomised to PRT each underwent a 1-hour telehealth evaluation and education session, in which they were introduced to the concept of “chronic pain as a brain-generated false alarm”.
These patients then had eight individual 1-hour sessions with a therapist who had extensive experience in PRT. During these sessions, “pain sensations while seated and while engaging in feared postures or movements” were reappraised, and techniques were used to increase positive emotions and address psychosocial threats that potentially amplify pain. 

The subjects in the placebo group watched two videos describing how placebo treatments can relieve pain (e.g., how they can automatically trigger the body’s natural healing response). The subjects then received a subcutaneous injection of saline administered by a physician at the site of greatest back pain.

Finally, the third group continued to follow their usual care without any additions (they were simply given a chronic pain workbook after the end of their treatment).

What emerged? Chronic pain intensity was greatly reduced in the subjects in the PRT group compared with the two control groups, with 73% reporting no pain or nearly no pain post-treatment. The benefits of the treatment were still evident at 1-year follow-up. 

How can we explain these differences and benefits? 

“The treatment used in this study targeted pain, with the aim of helping patients reassess their ideas on its causes and significance” explains ISICO psychologist Dr Irene Ferrario. “It allowed the participants in the treatment group to reconceptualise their pain, enabling them to see it as a reversible phenomenon that can be controlled centrally, and not a genuine threat caused by peripheral tissue injury or disease. The PRT technique is based on existing psychological treatment models such as cognitive-behavioural interventions and interventions based on acceptance and mindfulness (self-awareness). It makes for better management or acceptance of pain: the specialist helps the patient to realise that painful activities are not necessarily harmful, and to better understand pain sensations and what causes them”. 

In the physiotherapy rehabilitation setting, it is essential for the doctor and patient to evaluate together the mechanisms involved in pain, in order to manage the factors, such as erroneous beliefs, fear of movement or catastrophisation, that could lead it to become chronic. Sometimes, in more complex situations, it can be important to have the support of a psychologist, too, who will work in a team with the physician and physiotherapist in order to identify the causes of the pain and help the patient to overcome it.

That hated hump!

In a person with scoliosis, forward bending of the trunk will cause a protuberance to appear on their back, at the level of the scoliotic curve: this anomaly is commonly referred to as a hump.

Scoliosis alters the alignment of the spine, and this alteration can be seen in the three dimensions of space: the affected vertebrae move sideways, taking on a different shape when viewed from the side; they also rotate, and this, especially if they are dorsal vertebrae, also causes a rotation of the rib cage. 

This hump is an aesthetic problem for people with scoliosis, as they fear that it is obvious to everyone else. But that is not the case at all. There is often a world of difference between the problem itself and how it appears in everyday life. 

During a thorough postural analysis or a medical examination, the doctor or examiner will position the patient’s body to emphasise any asymmetries present precisely so that they can be identified and measured.

Nobody is perfectly symmetrical in daily life: when we move, we frequently twist our bodies and bend and rotate our joints, our movements involving different segments of our body in various combinations. As a result, we constantly develop asymmetries, humps, and combinations of bent and straight segments without even being aware of it.

Let’s take an example. A doctor examining a patient’s hump will have the youngster stand with his knees straight and body bent forwards so as to emphasise the protuberance on the side of the curve. Is it visible? Yes, if the patient’s scoliosis is sufficiently marked, it will be visible even to the untrained eye. 

Now, what if we ask someone with a healthy back to tie up their shoelace? To do this, most people will push their foot forward, bend their knees asymmetrically, and lean forwards, with their trunk deviating to one side (the side of the shoe needing to be tied). As they do this, their spine will be turned to one side, and a hump can be seen on their back, on the side of the leg, with the shoe needing to be tied. Does that hump mean they have scoliosis? Of course not! It is caused by them twisting their spine in order to reach their shoe.  

We can explain the scoliosis-induced asymmetry of the hips in a similar way. If we stand still with our feet parallel, our knees straight and our trunk aligned, our side and our hips will look symmetrical; in people with scoliosis, on the other hand, one hip will appear straighter in respect to the other. 

Now, let’s imagine how we normally stand. Do we ever actually stand with our feet positioned symmetrically and our bodyweight perfectly distributed between them? No! We usually stand with our weight on one foot and one hip thrust out. How do we look in this position? It is completely asymmetrical, but this asymmetrical appearance is due to our natural posture; it is not caused by scoliosis! 

Nobody ever notices these natural asymmetries because our bodies repeatedly assume them throughout the day. For this reason, even asymmetries caused by scoliosis are never really noticed by others. 

Going back to our “hump”: is it really such a bad thing, to the point that we should do everything in our power to get rid of it?

The back brace sometimes worn by youngsters with scoliosis, seeks to optimise the alignment of the vertebrae involved in the scoliosis curve, but how? It works by pushing “from the outside” directly on the affected portion to restore its symmetry. The force it exerts on the rib cage or on the soft tissues of the hips also affects the spine. 

 What is meant by an optimal alignment of the spine? The straightest possible? 

This isn’t an easy question to answer. Equally, it is not easy for the doctor to identify the correct balance of forces to be exerted on the spine by the brace pads. 

The best alignment will enable the treated spine to remain as stable as possible and to withstand the forces to which it is subjected in daily life. 

The strength of the spine depends to a large extent on its shape, as seen from the side. From this perspective, our spine is characterized by two curves, called lordosis and kyphosis. These curves must be well balanced: neither too pronounced nor too slight. 

Unfortunately, in scoliosis, and this applies particularly to dorsal scoliosis, the kyphotic curve is reduced, causing the back to appear flat or even hollow. In other words, the normal direction of spinal curvature is reversed, and the spine is weaker as a result. 

Unfortunately, the brace has no way of counteracting this problem, as all it can do is push. In fact, its corrective forces, which are applied to the hump to help align the vertebrae involved in the curve, have a flattening effect on the back’s upper part (dorsal section). 

Therefore, the doctor’s task is to find and maintain the best possible balance, considering the importance of all the planes of the spine.

What this means in practice is that it is sometimes necessary not to “go too far” in trying to eliminate the hump. Because if this objective can be achieved only by excessively reducing the dorsal kyphosis angle, the result will be a weaker and less healthy spine.  

Back and neck pain and smartphone: is there a correlation?

Can being bent over the smartphone too often cause back- and neck pain in younger people? Data coming out of the study Posture and time spent using a smartphone are not correlated with neck pain and disability in young adults: A cross-sectional study, published some time ago by the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies are not confirming this.

The cross-sectional correlational study was conducted in a sample of students selected through convenience sampling between September 2016 and March 2017: the inclusion criteria were university students at the School of Medicine and Surgery, routine/daily use of mobile devices with advanced computing and connectivity capability built on an operating system, and aged 18–30 years. A total of 238 volunteers were recruited.

“The objective of the study – explains Prof. Stefano Negrini, scientific director of Isico and one of the authors of the research – was to determine the impact of smartphone use on neck impairment and functional limitation in university students. Neck pain was assessed using a visual analogue pain score (VAS) and a pain drawing (PD); disability status was measured using the Neck Disability Index (NDI-I); cervical postures while using the phone were captured using the Deluxe Cervical Range of Motion (CROM) device”.

While half of the young medical students reported neck pain, the use of smartphones was not correlated with neck pain and disability. “While we wait for future prospective studies – ends Prof. Negrini – there is no reason to recommend a change in smartphone use habits among young adults in the meantime”.

Scoliosis and pregnancy

For a woman, discovering she is pregnant is often one of the most memorable, most exciting and happiest moments in her life. Thinking about the baby, imagining it and talking about it, not to mention feeling it inside her, arouses a number of precious and positive emotions: hope, tenderness and love. However, at the same time, pregnancy leads to various changes, in her body, her self-image and her vision of the future.
Furthermore, she will need to make adjustments and seek new balances in her (often busy) daily life, her rhythms and her relations with others. 

All this can generate normal and entirely understandable fears, and these can be amplified in mothers-to-be who happen to be affected by a condition like scoliosis. Many such women will already have expressed anxiety over their ability to conceive, carry and give birth to a child.
Pregnancy and childbirth, on account of the physical demands they make, can indeed be quite a daunting prospect for these women.

An interesting recent review of the literature (Dewan MC, Mummareddy N, Bonfield C. The influence of pregnancy on women with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Eur Spine J. 2018 Feb;27(2):253-263. doi: 10.1007/s00586-017-5203-7. Epub 2017 Jun 29. PMID: 28664223.), focusing on the interaction between pregnancy and scoliosis, examines these very issues. Just to give an idea, in numerical terms, of the analysis carried out, this review included 134 articles and examined 22 studies, referring to a total of 3125 patients.

First of all, the review considered whether and how scoliosis affects the timing and outcomes of pregnancy. It would appear that women with idiopathic scoliosis need not worry about their possibility of having children, even though they have a slightly lower probability of becoming pregnant compared with age-matched women, and may be slightly more likely to receive fertility treatment. Furthermore, women with scoliosis, regardless of whether they underwent surgery or bracing treatment, can expect to have a similar number of children as healthy women. 

However, the studies considered have certain limitations: most of them failed to specify whether the women with scoliosis had been actively seeking or desired pregnancy. Similarly, it is not clear whether all the patients were followed up until menopause. Furthermore, marriage rates, often not even mentioned, were not uniform across the studies.
In the absence of indications on these aspects, the slightly higher rate among women with scoliosis who do not have children could be misinterpreted.

Low back pain

Every year, the Italian Scoliosis Study Group selects the best published papers on conservative spine treatment from the global scientific literature.
Here is the abstract from one of these papers. 

Long-term follow-up of untreated Scheuermann’s kyphosis
  Enrique Garrido, Simon B Roberts, Andrew Duckworth, Joseph Fournier 
PMID: 34212306 DOI: 10.1007/s43390-021-00354-y


Study design: Long-term cross-sectional study.

Objectives: To investigate the long-term effects of untreated Scheuermann’s kyphosis on quality of life, and its relationship to radiographic parameters of spinal deformity. Previous studies reported reduced self-image, increased pain and impaired physical status. Little is known of the long-term impact of sagittal plane deformity in untreated SK.

Methods: One hundred and thirteen consecutive untreated patients with SK were identified from a national service database prior to 2000, when surgery was not offered at this unit. 81 of these patients were available for evaluation; 66 (81%) consented to questionnaire and clinical evaluation, and 47 (58%) consented to additional radiological evaluation. Health-related quality of life (HRQoL) was compared to normative population values. Mean age was 45.1 years (31-65), and mean follow-up was 27 years (16-36). 57 patients had thoracic kyphosis and 9 had thoracolumbar deformity.

Results: SRS-22 and SF-36 scores were lower, and ODI was greater in patients with untreated SK compared to normative population values. Kyphosis progressed from mean 66° at skeletal maturity to 78° (p < 0.001) after mean follow-up of 27 years. Long-term progression of untreated SK was 0.45°/year (n = 47). Multilinear regression showed good correlation between increasing SVA and worse ODI scores (r = 0.59; p = 0.001). Increasing SVA also correlated with worse function, pain and mental health scores reported by SRS-22, and with worse physical function and bodily pain scores reported by SF-36. Increasing CL correlated with worse SF-36 physical function scores. Increasing cSVA and increasing TK correlated with worse SRS-22 self-image scores.

Conclusion: SRS-22 and SF-36 scores were lower, and ODI was greater in patients with untreated SK compared to normative data. Long-term progression of untreated SK was 0.45°/year (n = 47). Increasing SVA correlated with worse SF-36 physical function, SRS-22 function, SRS-22 pain and higher ODI scores. Total kyphosis (TK) and cSVA were independent predictors of low SRS self-image.

Level of evidence: III.

Keywords: Disease; Kyphosis; Natural history; Outcome; Scheuermann’s.

Low back pain

Every year, the Italian Scoliosis Study Group selects the best published papers on conservative spine treatment from the global scientific literature.
Here is the abstract from one of these papers. 

Low back pain
 Nebojsa Nick Knezevic, Kenneth D Candido, Johan W S Vlaeyen, Jan Van Zundert, Steven P Cohen
PMID: 34115979 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00733-9


Low back pain covers a spectrum of different types of pain (eg, nociceptive, neuropathic and nociplastic, or non-specific) that frequently overlap. The elements comprising the lumbar spine (eg, soft tissue, vertebrae, zygapophyseal and sacroiliac joints, intervertebral discs, and neurovascular structures) are prone to different stressors, and each of these, alone or in combination, can contribute to low back pain. Due to numerous factors related to low back pain, and the low specificity of imaging and diagnostic injections, diagnostic methods for this condition continue to be a subject of controversy.
The biopsychosocial model posits low back pain to be a dynamic interaction between social, psychological, and biological factors that can both predispose to and result from injury, and should be considered when devising interdisciplinary treatment plans.
Prevention of low back pain is recognised as a pivotal challenge in high-risk populations to help tackle high health-care costs related to therapy and rehabilitation. To a large extent, therapy depends on pain classification, and usually starts with self-care and pharmacotherapy in combination with non-pharmacological methods, such as physical therapies and psychological treatments in appropriate patients.
For refractory low back pain, a wide range of non-surgical (eg, epidural steroid injections and spinal cord stimulation for neuropathic pain, and radiofrequency ablation and intra-articular steroid injections for mechanical pain) and surgical (eg, decompression for neuropathic pain, disc replacement, and fusion for mechanical causes) treatment options are available in carefully selected patients.
Most treatment options address only single, solitary causes and given the complex nature of low back pain, a multimodal interdisciplinary approach is necessary. Although globally recognised as an important health and socioeconomic challenge with an expected increase in prevalence, low back pain continues to have tremendous potential for improvement in both diagnostic and therapeutic aspects.
Future research on low back pain should focus on improving the accuracy and objectivity of diagnostic assessments, and devising treatment algorithms that consider unique biological, psychological, and social factors.
High-quality comparative-effectiveness and randomised controlled trials with longer follow-up periods that aim to establish the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of low back pain management are warranted.

WHO rehabilitation task force: Isico is also there

Some of Isico’s are part of an international project promoted by WHO (World Health Organization) which aims to draw up rehabilitation guidelines for all countries, including those in the developing world, available to all Ministries of Health.
These rehabilitation guidelines need to be applicable in any context, taking into account the economic means and therapeutic possibilities that differ from country to country.

A large-scale and very ambitious project, involving Isico with three specialists, namely Dr Fabio Zaina, Dr Sabrina Donzelli and Dr Francesca Di Felice. 
The supervision is given by Prof Stefano Negrini, also involved as director of Cochrane Rehabilitation.
“In this process of developing guidelines, we were asked to deal specifically with back pain – explains Dr Zaina – in the first phase, already completed now, we dealt with the bibliographic research. In the second phase, we were asked to collect the scientific evidence in respect to the data collected so as to build the guidelines. At the moment we are working on the final phase: drawing up the guidelines, with great attention also to the sustainability of costs in different countries, and presenting them to the referents of the various countries for their application”.

Back pain and scoliosis

What causes back pain? Well, having a back and two legs to begin with! That’s right! As humans, we have one particular body part that is always going to be more exposed than the others to the risk of discomfort and overloading. And that body part is the spine.

You have probably sometimes wondered why certain people who do heavy jobs and spend their entire lives “mistreating their spine” don’t even know what it means to have back pain.

It is well established that “good” or “bad” loading of the spine is a result of its conformation in the sagittal (lateral) plane, in other words, on the distribution of its curves.
Unfortunately, the lateral profile of the spine, meaning the particular way in which the spine’s natural curves, called lordosis and kyphosis, are distributed, does not depend on the will of the individual, but on a genetic predisposition to one pattern or another.

Basically, whether or not we are predisposed to back problems is a matter of luck.

So, what should we do? Simply resign ourselves to the fact that, morphologically speaking, we are among the less fortunate? Simply accept that we are prone to back pain and put up with it, since there’s nothing that can be done?

No, absolutely not! Because back pain, affecting our work, mood and social activities, can really condition our lives!

Things to know

– You have to take care of your back because, for better or worse, it’s yours and it’s the only one you’re ever going to have.

– Taking care of your back means keeping it fit and knowing how to use it properly. So, make sure you do regular physical activity to keep your spinal muscles in shape, but also your leg and arm muscles. What kind of activity? There’s no “best” kind of physical activity; the important thing is to choose something you enjoy and do it at least twice a week, or better still three times. 

– Knowing how to use your back means making sure that you do not spend too long sitting down. You need to alternate sitting with spells of movement. Also learn to sit correctly, and if your work means you have to spend hours sitting at a desk, look at how to set everything (computer, seat, etc.) at the right height. Also, you need to think about how to correctly manage your body under stress, in other words when it is subjected to loads and also during physical effort.

It is important to learn about the shape of your own spine and how forces are distributed over the body, and then to assess your particular limits and strengths. It can be helpful to do all this with the support of a specialist who can help to familiarise you with your own specific ergonomic and training needs.

What if I have scoliosis?

Even though there is still a lot to be discovered and learned in this field, we know that scoliosis, as it progresses, creates an abnormal alignment of the vertebrae, which is seen both in the frontal plane (as scoliotic curves) and in the sagittal plane (as changes in physiological lordosis and kyphosis).

Indeed, treatment of scoliosis aims to curb this progression and remodel the spine so that, by the time the individual finishes growing, it is as well aligned as possible.

According to scientific studies, if we can achieve good spinal balance in the sagittal plane (in particular, this means maintaining good lumbar lordosis), and if we can keep the scoliotic curves under 25-30°, the scoliosis outcome will not affect the proper functioning of the spine.

In such cases, the risk of back pain will be the same as that seen in people without scoliosis.

In the presence of more severe curves, it is necessary to be even more aware of the need to safeguard the spine. In the knowledge that it is a delicate and vulnerable part of the body, you must take good care of it and do physical activity to keep your back fit.