Innovative trial to test age-old theory - and beat back pain

Low back pain can be a significant problem for older Australians, and research tells us that it often becomes stronger and more persistent as we age.

The pain usually makes it difficult to perform duties inside and outside the home, decreases quality of life, affects social activities, decreases physical activity and increases the risk of developing other chronic conditions.

A survey conducted in Australia in 2018 found that around 75 per cent of older Australians did not meet the national physical activity guidelines.

This means they did fewer than 20 minutes of exercise a day (or less than 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week).

Even though evidence tells us that physical activity is one of the best ‘medicines’ we have for older adults, most of the older population is still inactive.

Read more: Is this what’s causing your back pain?

YourLifeChoices and the Sydney University research team want to help older Australians manage musculoskeletal pain, stay active, thrive – and beat back pain.

YourLifeChoices is partnering with researchers from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre Musculoskeletal Research Hub on ‘the buddy trial’ – a program that aims to not only get you moving, but also to enhance the physical and mental benefits of exercise.

Researchers at the University of Sydney are conducting a study in collaboration with the NSW Get Healthy Initiative. It is aimed at helping older people with back pain by analysing whether exercising with a buddy is better than exercising alone.

There is a widely held belief that exercising with family or friends leads to better adherence and health outcomes compared to exercising alone, but the theory has never been tested.

The hypothesis is that older people with back pain would significantly benefit from exercising with someone, whether that be a family member, a friend or a neighbour.

For the study, researchers are seeking people over the age of 50 who have recently had treatment for low back pain.

Read more: Walk to alleviate lower-back pain

The NSW Get Healthy Coaching Service provides over-the-phone coaching to assist older people to get active and stay active.

You can choose any activity you like, and the coaches will help you set realistic goals and stay on track with your exercise.

Participants will be randomly allocated to one of three groups:

1. The usual care group
Participants allocated to this group will continue with usual care and follow the advice given to them by their treating healthcare professional. This may or may not include exercise.

2. The health coaching group
Participants allocated to this group will receive up to 13 free coaching sessions through the NSW Get Healthy Initiative to encourage them to increase their physical activity.

3. The buddy exercise group
Participants allocated to this group will receive the same 13 free coaching sessions and will be asked to exercise with a partner or buddy once a week.

If you are interested in finding out more, please visit the Sydney University website – and tell them the YourLifeChoices team sent you! Or you can complete the pre-screening form.

Would you be interested in participating in such a trial? If not, what is holding you back?

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Written by Kate Roberts

Kate Roberts is an experienced physiotherapist and PhD Candidate at The University of Sydney. She has a passion for helping older Australians to manage their aches and pains. She is particularly interested in helping people to stay active and strong. When not working, she is kept busy with her three children, her two dogs and her secret dedication to pointing her toes and leaping in her regular ballet class.



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