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When Your Back Goes Out More Than You Do

Back pain is a common problem – 80% of people will experience an episode at some point in their lives.

It is associated with many factors that vary from person to person, but can be caused by an injury, a disc or joint problem, an irritated nerve root, or poor posture. The pain might be acute or chronic, but living with either can be debilitating.

Pain is considered chronic if it lasts more than three months and exceeds the body’s natural healing process. Either way, failing to get pain relief after different treatments is very frustrating. It can lead to depression, loss of working hours, and extensive treatments. Sufferers often lose hope and resort to popping painkillers or going for surgery, both of which can be counterproductive.

Surgery not the only option

Many people assume that surgery is their only option to treat severe back pain. However, according to Dr Jacques Gilau, clinical head for Dr JJ Gilau and Partners, which utilises Documentation Based Care (DBC) technology, ‘only a small percentage of people with back pain require surgery.’

DBC uses effective methods of physiotherapy and musculoskeletal rehabilitation for back and neck pain. Usually a 6-week interdisciplinary programme that includes treatment by doctors, physiotherapists and biokineticists.

The programme was developed for chronic pain relief by a group of Finnish experts in 1993 and begins with an in-depth assessment followed by a treatment regimen that incorporates active exercise with appropriate weights and motion. These target the trunk and neck muscles of the spine to help restore mobility and control. Patients are monitored regularly to determine progress and relaxation is an essential part too, as is guidance on how to use the spine to lead a normal life.

Medical aid support

Bonitas Medical Fund has partnered with DBC so that its members have access to a back and neck programme of up to six weeks, to either prevent surgery or, when it is unavoidable, prepare and strengthen ahead of surgery and rehabilitation afterwards.

Gerhard Van Emmenis, Principal Officer of Bonitas, says, ‘We believe in the preventative management of chronic back and neck pain and since partnering with DBC have had excellent feedback. Members are staying active, developing a better understanding about their pain, identifying the factors involved in their pain and living regular lives.’ According to the DBC statistics the success rate for treating chronic back and neck pain to avoid surgery is 91% at two years follow-up and 75% at five years follow-up evaluation (results from a study done in 2005-2007 and published in SAOJ Vol 7 No 2, Autumn edition.)

The outcomes include restoring the range of motion in your back and neck as well as muscle co-ordination and movement control, and an improvement in muscle endurance and strength. ‘Part of the programme also looks at re-education around pain management to reduce fear and avoidance behaviour associated with pain,’ explains Van Emmenis. ‘DBC tackles psychosocial obstacles and encourages continued activity. After the treatment a home-based programme is put in place, which is monitored by an attending doctor, to maintain long term results.’

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