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Pitt Researchers Studying How To Keep Back Pain From Becoming Long-Term Problem

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Just about everyone has back pain at some point in their life.

"Six or seven years ago, I blew my back out from shoveling snow and ice; and probably for four months, it was just a crippling kind of pain," remarks one man.

"I played in a basketball tournament when I was 25-years-old. My back has hurt every day since," says another.

"Sometimes you think maybe in warm weather it'll go away, but it [doesn't]," laments a third.

How to keep back pain from becoming a long-term problem is what researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are trying to figure out. This affects less than 10 percent of people with back pain, but it consumes 80 to 90 percent of the money spent on the condition.

"This is a vicious circle. They avoid activity, and because they avoid activity, they become deconditioned. When they become more deconditioned their back pain actually gets worse," said Anthony Delitto, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Therapy.

The multicenter study involves primary care practices which will be randomly selected to give standard back care, or give the intervention of prompt physical therapy along with cognitive behavioral therapy to help people cope and adapt.

The patients will be followed at six months and a year.

The study will look at how well patients do with sitting, standing, walking, lifting, traveling and sleeping. And the researchers will keep track of the number of x-rays, MRIs, surgeries and other procedures for all patients in the study.

The researchers hope to find the approach reduces progression to chronic pain, cuts down on costly procedures, and might be applied to other parts of the body, like for knee pain or neck pain.

"Once a person is chronic, almost nothing really helps resolve that," says Dr. Delitto.

The primary care sites in the Pittsburgh area have not yet been chosen.

They expect more than 2,000 patients to be involved locally. At the earliest, the results could be back in four years.

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