"Whole spine" approach to neck and back problems

markus-mellohA researcher at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Nedlands and collaborators in the United States, have created a new tool to help health professionals improve their treatment of patients experiencing pain in the neck or back. 

Professor Markus Melloh, who is also associated with the University of Western Australia, says the new Spine Functional Index is a tool which was tested in 10 Australian physiotherapy outpatient clinics on more than 200 patients who had neck and back problems for less than 5 weeks.

The Spine Functional Index focuses on the activities of daily living such as shopping, cleaning and gardening. It was developed from 129 questionnaires with a total of 409 items involving input from physiotherapists, general practitioners, occupational therapists and occupational physicians. The Spine Functional Index has received wide interest in the medical community and has now been translated from English to Chinese, German, Spanish and Turkish with more languages to follow.

“Rather than just concentrating on the neck or back, we’ve designed a tool that suits the whole spine. This is important because the neck and back are all related when it comes to pain,” he said. “Symptoms often occur in multiple, interconnected spinal areas. In the spine everything is connected such as links in a chain”.

Professor Melloh said that since this concept of a single chain has been adopted for the spine researchers have developed five questionnaires about the whole spine, but they’ve all had lots of limitations and weren’t very practical.

“We found that this new tool was a lot easier to read and much less prone to error. It will make the treatment of patients with neck and back problems much easier,” he said. “In the spine it’s all about function and how patients cope in everyday life.”

The work was a collaborative effort including the University of the Sunshine Coast and Virginia Commonwealth University, USA. The research has been published in the world’s leading journal of its type, The Spine Journal, based in the U.S.

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