Back pain, ankylosing spondylitis and social media usage; a descriptive analysis of current activity

Elizabeth Reilly, Raj Sengupta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (SciVal)


Social media usage by back pain patients is a new and developing area. Analysing patterns of this online activity offers a new way to understand our patients’ concerns and behaviour around disease. Large volume data can be evaluated on a scale not feasible through alternative methods. A cross sectional review of specific terms relating to ‘back pain’ (BP) and ‘ankylosing spondylitis’ (AS) were tracked internationally on popular websites, blogs and boards over two 3 month periods, in 2016 and 2019. Relevant co-terms were also tracked in these discussions, such as ‘exercise’, ‘medication’ and ‘doctor’. The size of the current online BP conversation is significant; there were over 100,000 mentions/month across each study period, particularly ‘low-’ BP. Discussions about AS increased threefold between 2016 and 2019. More discussions took place online at the start of the week, and in the afternoons. Pregnancy, baby and mens’ health resources were the most popular sites for BP chats. People posting about AS were mainly female (80%) and predominantly had an established diagnosis, with health forums hosting more of these discussions than for BP. Exercise was more commonly mentioned in the context of BP, whereas medications were more common in the AS conversations. Analysing online discussions about BP and AS helps to identify themes amongst patients. Some are seeking a diagnosis, support, or treatment information. Understanding the massive scale of online conversations could help clinicians adopt targeted approaches to increase patient identification, meet patient concerns better, and optimise engagement.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberRHEI-D-20-00213R1
Pages (from-to)1493-1499
Number of pages7
JournalRheumatology International
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
None of the authors declare any conflicts of interest relevant to this work. ER has been part funded through a research grant by Celgene Corp for unrelated research. RS has received research grants, consultancy and speaker fees from Abbvie, Biogen, Celgene, Lilly, Novartis and UCB.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).


  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Back pain
  • Exercise
  • Internet
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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