Headache, Back Pain Linked In New Review

Chronic headaches and persistent lower back pain might seem like they are distant cousins but the two debilitating conditions sometimes occur together, causing unbearable pain. People who have both conditions are being looked at as a neglected medical group by themselves because the individual conditions are already being treated by concerned specialists. The idea is to kill two birds with one stone. 

A new review of 14 studies by researchers at the University of Warwick indicates that headache disorders and lower back pain need not be treated as separate entities since both are highly prevalent among the world’s population. However, other than a high occurence rate, they are yet to prove a common cause to tie them together. 

Here are some facts pooled together by the study that was published in the Journal of Headache and Pain.

  • Migraines and headaches caused by tension are two leading chronic conditions that affect 10 percent of the world’s population. Chronic headaches are suffered by 3 to 4 percent of adults worldwide. 
  • Low back pain has become a global health burden. Especially since 4 percent of the U.K. population takes leave from work to cope with the low back pain. The results are costly that it leads to a loss of  90 million working days. 

back-pain A positive association between persistent lower back pain and headaches was found through a review of 14 studies conducted by the University of Warwick. Pixabay

Several databases were checked to establish a connection and perform the extensive review.  They are Medline, Embase, Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts (ASSIA), PsychINFO and Web of Knowledge. Recently published articles were included and a quality check was also conducted by adhering to an academically approved checklist. 

The Findings of the Study

Different sample sizes were taken into account, right from a mere 88 participants to 404,206 people in an international study. The team clearly defined the conditions to differentiate between the various medical definitions with subtle differences.

A headache is deemed a chronic problem if it occurs for more than 15 days in a month, exceeding a period of three months. The specific location of low back pain for the purpose of this study is “area between the bottom of the rib cage and the buttock creases for more than 3 months”. 

While the review did find that headaches and lower back pain were positively associated with each other, the odds of them appearing together were not identical. The chances of the conditions occurring one after the other could be at double the odds up to eight times the odds. Owing to these variations, a cumulative accurate statistical analysis could not be done.  

As per Medical News Today, Prof. Martin Underwood from Warwick Medical School said that "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." 

Despite the limitations of the review as a measurement tool and the differences in population samples in each study, Underwood added, "But this makes you think that there might be, at least for some people, some commonality in what is causing the problem.”