Australian Teens Missing School, Drinking To Cope With Chronic Back Pain

A link between frequent back pain and risky behaviour suggests we need to stop dismissing teens' pain as "trivial or fleeting".

As any sufferer will tell you, chronic back pain is debilitating, ongoing, and a pain in the backside to manage -- and a study has just found why we need to be taking it more seriously.

A new study of more than 6,000 Australians has drawn a link between frequent back pain in youth and health problems later in life.

The study, conducted by the University of Sydney and published in the Journal of Public Health, looked at cross-sectional data of 14 and 16-year-olds, sourced from two large independent studies conducted during 2014 and 2015.

It found that the more young people reported back pain, the more likely they were to also report smoking, drinking alcohol, missing school, and feelings of anxiety and depression.

For example, teens aged 14 and 15 who experienced pain more than once a week were two to three times more likely to have drank alcohol or smoked in the past month than those who rarely or never experienced pain.

The more young Aussies experience back pain, the more they engage in risky behaviours, miss school, or experience poor mental health. Source: Australian Child Wellbeing Project.

Lead author of the study Dr Steve Kamper said the data showed a concern that pains often dismissed as "trivial or fleeting" would lead to ongoing health problems.

“During adolescence pain from bones, joints, muscles, and back pain in particular rises steeply. Despite being the cause of substantial health care use and school absences, pain in this age group is commonly dismissed as trivial or fleeting," he said.

“This study shows that adolescents with frequent pain are also at increased risk of other health problems, which is of concern as both pain and these risky behaviours have ongoing consequences that stretch well into adulthood."

While the mental health trends were less clear, there was a "significant difference" between the mental health indicators of those who reported no pain in comparison with those who did.

“While we can’t say back pain is the cause of risky behaviour or mental health concerns, the study suggests adolescent back pain may play a role in characterising overall poor health, and risk of chronic disease into adulthood," said Kamper.

Chronic pain is unfortunately largely misunderstood by the wider medical community, meaning that sufferers can spend years just to get a diagnosis, let alone an effective pain management strategy.

READ MORE: What I Wish I'd Known About Chronic Pain Before I Got Sick

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au

Lead Image: Getty