At least 80% of South Africa's workforce is suffering from severe discomfort and even disability due to problems which arise from lower back pain.
Although there are no official figures available on the cost of disability, it is estimated that worker disability in 1999 cost the economy more than R2 billion according to the SA Society of Physiotherapy.
The solution, however, is not complex but is often ignored by Government, medical aids and sufferers.
Billions spent on treatment
The American Arthritis Foundation reports that back pain affects 50 to 80% of people in the USA, with 10% of adults experiencing pain, immobility or stiffness at any one point in time.
Americans spend an estimated US$24 billion every year on treatment, not taking into account time missed from work. After the common cold, back pain is the most frequent cause of lost work days in adults under 45 and also carries an emotional cost to sufferers.
Physiotherapy under the spotlight
A recent study at the University of Warwick and Oxford University has put routine physiotherapy, a traditional treatment of lower back ailments, under the spotlight.
Published in the British Medical Journal, the study found no difference in results between a group that were treated by physiotherapists and another that was given advice and no treatment.
"The message to take away from this study is that there is no magic wand to curing back pain. If you want to get rid of the pain, you have to play an active role in the process yourself," said report co-author Sarah Stewart-Brown.
In the UK, GPs refer 1,3 million patients every year to NHS physiotherapists, despite the fact that research indicates that physiotherapy may be ineffective for the ailment. Chris Loker, MD of Moksha Yoga Studio, says that it is not unreasonable to extrapolate the figures from the USA and UK to South Africa: "Like obesity, we are following some alarming health trends emanating from these countries," he says.
"Anecdotally, there seems to be a higher number of back operations per complaints in South Africa. Many of these are unnecessary and avoidable. Researchers have found that doing exercise is the way to get over lower back pain. This flies in the face of those who recommend rest. "
Many exercise regimes don't work
"It is critical to keep the spine working in order to increase mobility, but unfortunately many exercise regimes don't work on twisting, rotating, lengthening and strengthening the spine and surrounding muscles, including the abdominal muscles which support the back".
Pilates may be effective in this respect, says Loker, but he believes that the ancient art of yoga offers the solution. "Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the amount of time spent in chairs and at desks means that it is critical to work the spine to avoid backache, and more importantly, increase quality of life as we age. What's the point of living longer but hating every minute of it?"
Increased quality of life requires a bit of an investment, he believes, in this case the discipline of a regular exercise practice, but the benefits are immense; leading to increased vitality, reduced stress and mental clarity.
"What I don't understand is that major industries shy away from this proven practice and focus more on the drug and operation solution rather than prevention. Maybe it is because there is more money in the former. Yoga is still a cottage industry by comparison, however, if more people took responsibility for their own well-being, instead of adopting a 'pill for every ill' mentality, perhaps this wellness word will become mainstream." – (Moksha Yoga Enterprises)