Researchers have identified a positive association between persistent lower back pain and headache disorders. The study reveals those with persistent back pain or persistent headache disorders are twice as likely to suffer from both disorders at the same time.
The researchers from Warwick Medical School who are funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) led a systematic review of fourteen studies with a total of 460,195 participants that attempt to quantify the association between persistent headaches and persistent low back pain. They found an association between having persistent low back pain and having persistent (chronic) headaches, with patients experiencing one typically being twice as likely to experience the other compared to people without either headaches or back pain. The association is also stronger for people affected by migraine.
The researchers focused on people with chronic headache disorders, those who will have had headaches on most days for at least three months, and people with persistent low back pain that experience that pain day after day. These are two very common disorders that are leading causes of disability worldwide.
Around one in five people have persistent low back pain and one in 30 have chronic headaches. The researchers estimate that just over one in 100 people (or well over half a million people) in the UK have both.
Professor Martin Underwood, from Warwick Medical School, said: “In most of the studies we found that the odds were about double — either way, you’re about twice as likely to have headaches or chronic low back pain in the presence of the other. Which is very interesting because typically these have been looked as separate disorders and then managed by different people. But this makes you think that there might be, at least for some people, some commonality in what is causing the problem.
The experts at Austin Neurosurgeons at constantly looking for this type of research to help our patients. By discovering this correlation we can work on not only the causes of low back pain but also the sources of chronic headaches for our patients.
“It suggests the possibility of an underpinning biological relationship, at least in some people with headache and back pain, that could also be a target for treatment.”
Professor Underwood added, “There may be something in the relationship between how people react to the pain, making some people more sensitive to both the physical causes of the headache, particularly migraine, and the physical causes in the back, and how the body reacts to that and how you become disabled by it. There may also be more fundamental ways in how the brain interprets pain signals, so the same amount of input into the brain may be felt differently by different people.”
Original Research: Open access “The association between headache and low back pain: a systematic review”. Arani Vivekanantham, Claire Edwin, Tamar Pincus, Manjit Matharu, Helen Parsons, Martin Underwood. Journal of Headache and Pain doi:10.1186/s10194-019-1031-y.