Back pain has become the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting 600 million people, according to a groundbreaking study published in The Lancet Rheumatology. The study, which analyzed data from nearly 500 studies conducted over the past three decades, sheds light on the global burden of back pain and its impact on different populations.
The term “burden” refers to a combination of the prevalence of back pain and the magnitude of health losses it causes. The study measured back pain in individuals aged 5 years and older, providing a comprehensive picture of the impact of the condition on different age and demographic groups.
Over the past 30 years, back pain has consistently remained the leading cause of disability worldwide. However, the study emphasizes that back pain is not an inevitable part of life despite its high prevalence.
The study also identifies three major risk factors associated with back pain: obesity, smoking and ergonomic factors in the workplace. Directly addressing these factors is estimated to reduce the burden of back pain by 39%.
Smoking has long been known to contribute to spinal damage by affecting discs and joints and weakening bones. In addition, smoking often accompanies other unhealthy lifestyles such as hypodynamia, obesity and poor sleep, which increases the risk of low back pain.
Obesity is also associated with various unhealthy lifestyle factors that increase the risk of lower back pain. Being overweight puts additional stress on the spinal structures, making them more susceptible to injury and inflammation.
Low back pain is a complex condition that is influenced by biological, social and psychological factors. Because of the complex structure of the human spine, identifying a single structural cause of low back pain is often difficult, even with modern diagnostic imaging techniques.
Diagnosis is based largely on the symptoms present, and while most cases of low back pain resolve within six weeks, much of it becomes permanent and can last for years. This chronicity contributes to the significant burden of this disease.
To get an idea of the future prevalence of back pain, the study authors predict that 843 million people worldwide will be living with the condition in the next 30 years if no significant changes are made. This emphasizes the urgent need for policy makers to intervene and address this growing global health problem.
In addition, the study revealed a marked gender disparity: low back pain is more common in women. The total number of women reporting back pain was 395 million compared to 225 million men. This disparity may be due to differences in health care-seeking behavior and access to care between the sexes.
Contrary to popular belief, back pain is not the most common among working-age adults. On the contrary, its rates are highest among people over the age of 80. Unfortunately, older adults are often overlooked when dealing with back pain.
In conclusion, this comprehensive study sheds light on the alarming global burden of low back pain. It emphasizes the need for targeted interventions to address risk factors such as obesity, smoking and workplace ergonomics. In this way, policy makers will be able to alleviate the burden of back pain and improve the quality of life for millions of people worldwide.