Millions of Americans suffer from chronic low back pain, making it hard to sit, stand, move, or even walk. But there are other health risks associated with back pain that can be even more debilitating for senior citizens. A study at the University of Pittsburgh indicates that depression should be treated along with back pain, as nearly 25% of seniors could suffer from both.
Researchers found that about 40% of participants had undergone back surgery that was ineffective, and several suffered from fibromyalgia, a musculoskeletal condition that is symptomatic of fatigue, memory loss, and mood problems. Fibromyalgia makes it much harder to treat depression, according to the lead researcher for the study. The study examined 123 women and 75 men, age 60 to 94, to determine how back pain and depression affected these patients.
Participants were administered an anti-depressant during the first phase of the study, and currently, about a third of these patients reported signs of improvement. The rest of the group, who did not experience the same results, was given a higher dose of the drug, Efflexor, and was also offered problem-solving therapy to aid the healing process. Some participants reported that a combination of both the anti-depressant and therapy proved highly effective.
Lead researcher, Dr. Jordan F. Karp, explained that he was interested in how both depression and chronic back pain interacted with one other, and if alleviating one would affect the other.
People with chronic back pain could be suffering for a number of reasons, from spinal curvature issues, to degenerative discs. The latter can be debilitating because the soft, spongy discs within the vertebrae act as shock absorbents, and also draw in nutrients and fresh blood as people move. When these discs are ruptured or cracked, they can cause severe pain because of the lack of support that results from damaged discs in the vertebrae.
Karp and other researchers claim that back problems on their own can be painful, but for a person with depression, he or she may feel the pain much more acutely. By treating both problems simultaneously, they are hoping patients will see relief mentally, emotionally, and physically. The medicine that was administered to participants in the study is also approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat both back pain and depression.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that about 20% of seniors 65 years of age and above suffer from depression. With the help of medicines like Effexor, therapy, and further clinical studies, researchers may find that the University of Pittsburgh’s study could prove useful in treating other seniors who may be affected by both.