Disability: Low Back Pain Is the Leading Cause Worldwide Study Says


According to data compiled by the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland, low-back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. This is backed up by another study that found the condition could be associated with an estimated one-third of all disability in the workforce.

The Population Health study found that one in 10 people worldwide are affected by low-back pain. Headed by senior researcher Damian Hoy, 117 published studies on low-back pain in Australia were analyzed, along with surveys about the condition in 50 countries.

Low-back pain frequency was compared to just under 300 various health conditions before coming to the conclusion that it is the lead cause for disability. In 2010, 9.4 percent of people worldwide were affected, with researchers finding that men were more likely than women. Over 8.7 percent of women had low back pain compared to 10 percent of men with the affliction.

Hoy makes notes of how widespread low back pain is, affecting various sexes, socioeconomic groups, age groups, occupations, and education levels in various countries. Though there are factors that put people at risk of low back pain, the cause is still not known.

The study that found low back pain as the leading cause for disability also compared regions around the world. Researchers found that 15 percent of Western Europeans had low back pain, the most prevalent worldwide. This is followed by the Middle East and Africa with a percentage of 14.8. The Caribbean had the lowest rate with 6.5 percent, just a shy under the 6.6 percent of Latin Americans who have lower back pain. Hoy suggests that people from developing countries were less prevalent to get low back pain possibly because of shorter height, more exercise, pain thresholds, and less of an access to health insurance. North America had only 7.7 percent of people with lower back pain.

Web MD lists the various risk factors of low back pain including being middle-aged and, echoing the study, being male. A previous back injury, as well as a family history of back pain could also be risks. Moreover, having fractures of the spine, back surgery, spine problems since childhood, and being pregnant are also listed as a risk factor for low back pain on Web MD.

There are also studies that have suggested smoking can be a risk factor for low back pain. In particular, findings published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery in December 2012 found that patients in the study who had severe back pain and quit smoking experienced pain much less extreme than patients who did not quit.

Dr. Driscoll at the University of Sydney in Australia led a second study from which it was found that over one-third of all disability in the workplace is caused by low back pain. The researchers analyzed 18 countries between 1990 and 2010. In particular, those working in forestry, animal husbandry, fishing and hunting, and agriculture were more likely to develop low back pain than other jobs.

To emphasize the importance of the study, Hoy expressed the burden that low back pain causes in developing countries, especially with populations ageing and growing. Hoy also says that low back pain and since it is the leading cause, disability, is expected to grow over the next two decades worldwide affecting the livelihoods, economies and health care systems of various countries and its people.

By Kollin Lore


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Web MD
Counsel & Heal

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