Is Back Pain Linked to Your Risk of Death?

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An aching back is a major cause of disability, and now, a new study finds that people with back pain may also have an increased risk of dying each year.

 People in the study ages 70 and older who reported having back or neck pain in the previous month were 13 percent more likely to die each year from any cause, compared with people who didn't have back pain.

The link between back pain and death, however, is not causal, the researchers noted in the study, which was published Feb. 23 in the European Journal of Pain. In other words, a person's back pain was not the cause of death. [5 Surprising Facts About Pain]

Rather, back pain and neck pain may be signs of other factors linked to an increased risk of death, such as poor health and poor physical abilities, the researchers wrote.  

In the study, researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia analyzed data from the Danish Twin Registry, which includes more than 4,300 twins ages 70 and up living in Denmark. At the beginning of the study, the researchers asked the people if they'd had either back pain or neck pain in the previous month. The follow-up period lasted, on average, about nine years.

People in the study with back or neck pain had a 13 percent higher risk of death from any cause each year compared with those who did not report back or neck pain, the researchers found. However, when the researchers also considered the people's physical abilities and whether they had symptoms of depression, the link between back and neck pain and death was no longer statistically significant, which suggests that spinal pain is not causing people's deaths but rather "is part of a pattern of poor health," the researchers wrote.

Previous research has linked back pain to increased symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduced social activity, the researchers noted. In addition, the link between pain and decreased physical activity may lead to weight gain, which, in turn, increases a person's risk for a number of diseases, the researchers wrote.

People in the study who were still alive at the end of the study period were more likely to be physically active compared with those who had died, according to the study. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.