A new study has revealed that low back pain is often the main cause of disability and that nearly 10 percent of the global population suffers from lower back pain. Another study, performed by the same researchers, found that low back pain is responsible for a third of work-related disability.
Damien Hoy is the lead study author and senior researcher at the University of Queensland’s School of Population Health in Australia and says, “Low back pain is something that almost every person will experience in their life and it is common across all ages, sexes, education levels, countries and socioeconomic groups. Unfortunately, the cause is often unclear.”
Although disability due to low back pain is experienced worldwide, Hoy says there are factors that may increase the risks, including stress, low education, older age and obesity. In addition, profession may also play a role, as those working in agriculture, fishing, forestry and hunting have a higher risk of the consequences of low back pain.
Dr. Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery and spine surgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City, is not surprised that Hoy’s study reveals that disability is often caused by low back pain. He says, “In the U.S., it is even the number one cause of lost work days.”
For the study, research was done from data across 50 countries. Researchers compared disability caused by low back pain to other conditions; however, results show that low back pain causes more disability around the world than any other condition. In 2010, 9.4 percent of people were affected by it and men are more likely to experience disability caused by low back pain, compared to women.
The influence of low back pain on disability was mostly present in Western Europe, followed by North Africa and the Middle East. The Caribbean and Central Latin America showed the lowest numbers. In the U.S., 7.7 percent of disabilities were caused by low back pain, mostly seen in high-income areas.
According to Hoy, certain things can be done to prevent lower back pain. Exercise is considered to be one of the best ways to prevent or reduce the burden and yoga in particular is thought to do wonders as well as swimming. Abdominal muscles must be maintained in order to build muscle strength and discomfort during exercise will fade once muscles start to build up in the body. Hoy says, “As young adults, many are fit and athletic, but once people start their working life, this often dies off due to lack of time. Those who only do heavy exercise on weekends are more prone to disability caused by low back pain.”
Hoy says, “The population is aging and growing and over the past years it has become an enormous burden in many countries. With people living longer, it is predicted to grow even more the next decades and it will have a big impact on economies, healthcare systems and individuals.
The two studies, showing that low back pain is often a main cause of disability, were both published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases on March 24.
By Diana Herst