Back pain and a great gender divide?

Majority of sufferers have never received a pain management plan

TORONTO, November 7, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - While one-in-four Canadians live with chronic low back pain, a new survey commissioned by Eli Lilly Canada, reveals that men and women may differ when it comes to how the pain impacts their daily lives.

Of those Canadians who rated their back pain as five or higher (on a scale of one to 10), most day-to-day activities such as sleep, sex, concentration, and enjoyment of life appear to impact women slightly more than men when it comes to chronic low back pain.1 Most importantly, what is common to both genders is that the majority of patients (62 per cent) who have been diagnosed with chronic low back pain have never received a pain management plan to help them deal with the pain.

"It comes as no surprise that so many Canadians are suffering from chronic low back pain and that men and women are feeling the impact on their quality of life in various ways," says Dr. Gordon Ko, medical pain specialist and assistant professor, University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. "What is most concerning is the majority of people diagnosed with chronic low back pain state they have not received a pain management plan from their doctor. This tells me that many Canadians are not receiving appropriate direction and may be suffering unnecessarily."

What is chronic low back pain?

Chronic low back pain is usually described as persistent, deep, aching, dull or burning pain in the area of the lower back or nagging discomfort that may travel down the legs, and lasts longer than three months. Pain is often worse while sitting in one position or when bending over, lifting, or doing physically demanding work.2 Low back pain can also be caused in part by the aging process, and also as a result of sedentary life styles with too little (sometimes punctuated by too much) exercise.

Of those survey respondents who suffer from chronic low back pain, 30 per cent rate the intensity of their pain as moderate to severe,1 (based on survey respondents who rated their back pain between seven and 10, on a scale from one to 10) and the pain may impact the quality of life of female respondents to a greater degree than male sufferers.

Chronic low back pain by the sexes?

Sixty-four per cent of women report that their chronic low back pain affects their ability to enjoy life, versus 56 per cent of men, with chronic low back pain having a similar impact on sleeping patterns (65 per cent of women vs. 57 per cent of men), and sex lives (39 per cent women vs. 33 per cent men).1 While these numbers do not significantly indicate a gender difference in terms of back pain impact, they may suggest a trend towards women perceiving pain differently. What is significant is that 71 per cent of female respondents say their back pain impacts their ability to do household chores, compared to only 50 per cent of men.1

According to Dr. Gordon Ko, "women often report more frequent and intense pain, which may have a biological basis."

Amelia Usher, a married mother of three, knows this reality quite well. Since injuring her back years ago, her life has been turned upside down and according to her, even more so than the men she has encountered who have experienced the same injury. "When I am at the clinic, I often have conversations with others who have chronic low back pain and have the impression that my quality of life has been impacted more negatively than men when it comes to some of the most important things in life - sleep, taking care of the household and just day to day activities."

Telling employers

While most Canadians experience chronic low back pain as a result of injury (31 per cent) or their work (25 per cent), only 50 per cent of respondents tell their employer about their back pain.

Plan to manage the pain

According to the survey, 62 per cent of people with chronic low back pain who consulted a doctor, report that their physician has not provided them with a pain management plan to help them deal with the impact their chronic low back pain is having on their life, including concerns and issues about treatment, yet among this group, 61 per cent state that they would find this type of discussion helpful.

Lynn Cooper from The Canadian Pain Coalition, a partnership of pain consumer groups, health professionals and scientists studying better ways of treating pain, says this finding is not surprising.

"Chronic pain continues to be a challenging phenomenon for people with pain and clinicians to address," says Lynn Cooper, President of the Canadian Pain Coalition. "That's why we need to work towards a model of improved patient-physician decision making and encourage conversations that are mindful of a patient's concerns and beliefs. Developing a pain management plan that involves multidisciplinary pain management and lifestyle changes is a step in the right direction that should produce better outcomes for all people with pain."

Treatment options

"With many Canadians concerned about the potential addictive nature of pain medications (60 per cent of those surveyed), it's important to know that there are a variety of treatment options available to manage chronic low back pain, so there's no need to just grin and bear it," says Dr. Ko.

"We now have a number of treatment options to manage chronic low back pain, including over-the-counter analgesics, opioids and new prescription non-opioid medications, as well as complementary options like acupuncture, platelet injections, meditation and biofeedback," says Dr. Ko. "Your doctor can work with you to determine which treatment options are most appropriate for you."

Sufferers who suspect they may have chronic low back pain should speak to a doctor to obtain a formal diagnosis and obtain a comprehensive pain management plan. It is possible to live a better life despite chronic low back pain.

Lilly, a leading innovation-driven corporation, is developing a growing portfolio of first-in-class and best-in-class pharmaceutical products by applying the latest research from its own worldwide laboratories and from collaborations with eminent scientific organizations. Headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, Lilly provides answers - through medicines and information - for some of the world's most urgent medical needs. Eli Lilly Canada, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, employs close to 500 people across the country. Additional information about Eli Lilly Canada can be found at