There’s fresh hope for those living with back pain after a new study found treatment for insomnia can help to reduce the bothersome condition, further enforcing the complex link between sleep and pain management.
Back pain is one of those ailments that can really get in the way of life’s little pleasures, whether it’s missing out on running around with the grandkids, enjoying your favourite hobbies or just being able to lie comfortably on your bed.
Chronic low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting an estimated 540 million people at any one time. More than 59 per cent of sufferers also experience insomnia.
The new study, published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, analysed data from 24 randomised controlled clinical trials treating sleep disorders in more than 1,150 people with osteoarthritis and back or neck pain.
The research results showed that in people with back pain, sleep interventions like cognitive behavioural therapy and medication improved sleep by 33 per cent and improved pain by 14 per cent.
“The latest evidence suggests there is a two-way relationship between sleep and pain, meaning poorer sleep may lead to worse pain, and worse pain may lead to poorer sleep,” senior author Dr Milena Simic, a researcher from the University of Sydney, said.
Based on the study results, researchers say health professionals treating back pain patients should be conscious of screening for insomnia.
“These findings highlight that we can improve sleep in people with painful conditions, and in some cases lead directly to less pain,” Simic said.
“With limited effective treatment available for back pain it made sense for us to look at the impact treating insomnia could have on back pain sufferers who also often report poor quality sleep, early waking and difficulty initiating and maintaining sleep.”
Meanwhile, co-author Paulo Ferreira, who led a 2016 study showing a link between depression and back pain, said that depression and insomnia are both risk factors for developing low back pain, and people with depression often have poor sleep.
“A person might see their GP or physiotherapist for back pain, but if they are not mentioning other issues such as sleep problems, anxiety or depression, we miss the potential to treat these co-existing conditions,” Ferreira said. “This research suggests we may see even bigger improvement if we were to treat insomnia and back pain simultaneously.”
However, while low back pain improved with insomnia treatments, participants with knee osteoarthritis did not appear to experience improved pain despite minor improvements in sleep.
Lead author Kevin Ho said that the results tend to suggest that a minimum of 30 per cent improvement in sleep is require to see future improvements in pain. The researchers said they are planning to carry out studies on combined treatments next.
This isn’t the first time a lack of sleep has been linked to health difficulties. In fact, a recent study found that sleeping less than six hours a night could put people at risk of cardiovascular disease.
The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found a lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing clogged arteries. Researchers found that a lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep increases the risk of atherosclerosis – plaque build-up in the arteries.
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