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CG19 J Anderson ATL 300.qxd:1



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Human Resources

Back in action Joy Anderson, CEO of, advocates an alternative approach to dealing with chronic back pain…


he government has recently begun promoting the concept of wellness and activity as a way of getting people back to work. Gordon Brown has made bold statements about government health strategies, pledging that: “The NHS of the future will do more than just treat patients who are ill – it will be an NHS offering prevention as well.” Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson, in his speech to the British Heart Foundation on 20th February 2008, cited government figures showing that back pain costs employers £600m a year, with sufferers of persistent back problems on average taking 17 days’ sick leave per year. Return to work figures show that, of those who are signed off for up to six months, only 50% return to work. That figure decreases to 25% for those signed off between six months and one year. In 1998 the Department of Health reported that: ■ 40% of adults had suffered from back pain for more than one day in the last 12 months; ■

15% were in pain throughout the year;

13% of back pain sufferers aged 16-64 had been unemployed in the previous month due to back pain.

As someone who has suffered debilitating back pain, I’ve tried a multitude of treatments and gizmos. Mostly their impact was negligible, very short-lived or expensive. My GP could only suggest surgery, bed rest, painkillers and resigning myself to the futility of it all. 20 years later, I’m not only fully recovered but also fitter than ever. During the same time period, the medical profession has rejected prolonged bed rest. However, the treatments offered tend to be the same: anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relief, surgery and limited physiotherapy. One can see why returning to work is so difficult. The constant pain, discomfort and loss of mobility can be overwhelming. Back pain sufferers often give up exercise because it is too painful, so they become overweight, which exacerbates the condition. This cycle of depression and loss of self-esteem can be extremely detrimental and is often compounded by long periods of unemployment.

So how does this fit in with the government’s preventative health strategy? Perhaps low return-to-work rates result from medical practitioners misunderstanding the rehabilitation process. They expect full physical recovery from their patients when they eventually return to work, but neglect the psychological impact of long-term back pain. It cannot be underestimated that many long-term back pain sufferers are likely to have become isolated, depressed and consequently suffer low self-esteem. So it is likely that they will need other kinds of support to help ease them back into a working environment. A small number of GPs do recommend yoga. However, without proactive endorsement at policy level, patients may not take that leap of confidence. If one could attend a yoga class just like one goes to physiotherapy, there could be a considerable shift. In my view, the current approach to back pain is largely ineffective, whilst the cost to the individual and the economy is huge. I am convinced that, for most chronic back pain sufferers, yoga would offer relief from pain as well as all the attendant psychological and emotional benefits. One of the problems of offering yoga classes at a doctor’s surgery is the lack of appropriate space and restricted consultation hours. However, with the proposed introduction of polyclinics by Lord Darzi, perhaps this would be an ideal opportunity to include a purpose-built yoga studio as part of his ‘vision of the future’. This would not only facilitate a convenient and cost-effective referral point for allopathic and complimentary therapists, but also provide continuity of care, patient satisfaction and financial viability. Joy Anderson Chief Executive Officer Tel: +44 (0)20 7274 7577

Yoga practised regularly, in my experience, can be extremely effective in dealing with most back problems as well as being a great stress buster. Public Service Review: Central Government 19

© Reproduced with the kind permission of PSCA International Ltd 2009

Back in Action  

Yoga for Back Pain is an economical solution to preventing and curing back pain at work

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