Lower back pain is a very common problem and an economic burden of modern society. It is often caused by obesity, bad posture, injuries, and deformities. According to World Health Organization (WHO), lower back pain has an incidence of 4-5% in developed countries and is often the cause of disability. The economic burden comes from the fact that it is very easy for patients to fake lower back pain and very hard for doctors to identify fakers, so it is often used as an excuse to call in sick.
Lower back pain and alcohol abuse
Besides the usual causes, lower back pain is a very frequent complaint among persons who abuse alcohol. Several studies were conducted in order to investigate this relationship. A systematic review of these studies published in 2013 took into account 26 studies dealing with this issue. Data about the occurrence of lower back pain and alcohol intake were gathered mainly using questionnaires. Ten of those studies showed a slight relationship between lower back pain and alcohol consumption, while the remaining 16 showed no association. Several studies even compared different levels of alcohol intake (mild, moderate, severe), but the frequency of lower back pain did not change significantly.
Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to be beneficial for the cardiovascular system. However, long term alcohol consumption is related to liver disease and diminished function of the nervous system which leads to cognitive impair, speech problems, and balance problems including an impaired gait. Pressure from the lower extremities is transferred to pelvic and sacral region, so we can see how alcohol could possibly damage the musculoskeletal and nervous system of the sacral and lumbar region during years of abuse.
In conclusion, alcohol consumption seems to be somewhat related to lower back pain, but the findings of different studies differ, probably due to some other, unknown, additional influential factors. Alcohol may increase the risk of new episodes of lower back pain in persons who already suffer from complex musculoskeletal disorders in the lumbar and sacral region. Scientists see this theory as an opportunity to educate persons with existing lower back pain about their habits. Also, injuries and posture disturbances while drinking may play an important role, but so far studies represent just the beginning. More research is certainly needed in order to investigate this complex relationship and all its features.
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