Our research has been recognised for helping millions defy chronic back pain

A group of doctors at a desk looking at documents.

The research, which has transformed the treatment of lower back pain, the number one cause of disability in the world, was recognised by Universities UK, for its significant impact on millions of people’s everyday life.

Versus Arthritis researchers at our Primary Care Centre of Excellence at Keele University, developed the STarTBack approach to help doctors better understand how, or if, lower back pain would become chronic - lasting more than three months. The insights they gained allowed them to, for the first time, tailor treatments to the specific needs of patients.

STarTBack involves the use of a simple questionnaire by GPs and physiotherapists to help them understand the nature of an individual’s back pain, in order to categorise them into one of three bands:

  • Low risk of developing chronic back pain
  • Medium - mainly physical obstacles to recovery
  • High - additional psychological obstacles to recovery

The three-tier banding helps doctors target treatments more accurately, as they are based on the individual patient’s risk of developing the long-term, life-changing form of back pain.

Since the introduction of the new approach 15 years ago, STarTBack has delivered outstanding physical and economic benefits. Impact data from Keele University indicates that STarTBack has significantly decreased disability from back pain, reduced time off work due to back pain (by 50% in trials) and saved more than £700 million in the UK.

Keele STarTback

Defying back pain

Seventy per cent of people in the UK will experience a significant episode of back pain during their lives, and the condition costs society more than £10bn each year.

The STarT Back approach has been widely implemented into UK health guidelines, has been translated into 36 languages and is being used across the world.

Other breakthroughs recognised by Universities UK include the first use of penicillin, the development of a new technology that is revolutionising liver transplant, and the world’s first full body MRI scanner.