Many of us experience low back pain at some point in our lives for different reasons. And now, new research suggests this condition causes more disability worldwide than any other ailment.
The researchers behind the study – who publish their results in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases – say that, as life expectancies increase and the proportion of elderly people rises, this problem will worsen in the coming decades.
As such, the team warns governments and health services to take the issue more seriously than they have in the past.
Their data comes from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study, which looked at poor health and disability arising from all ailments in 187 countries. These countries were grouped into 21 regions, and the data covers 1990, 2005 and 2010.
They explain that the process for estimating the global burden of low back pain has taken nearly 6 years to complete. It involved assessing the prevalence, incidence, remission, duration and risk of death associated with low back pain in 117 studies.
By combining the number of years of life lost from early death and the number of years lived with disability, the researchers were able to assess the damage caused by low back pain in terms of disability adjusted life years (DALYs).
Overall, out of 291 conditions studied, low back pain was at the top in terms of years lost to disability and sixth in terms of DALYs.
Additionally, in 12 of the 21 world regions, it was the greatest contributor to disability, and in Western Europe and Australasia, it was the greatest contributor to overall burden.
From the study, the researchers discovered that nearly 1 in 10 people had low back pain. And the number of DALYs rose from 58.2 million in 1990 to 83 million in 2010.
In terms of where the prevalence of low back pain was highest, Western Europe wins the crown, followed by North Africa and the Middle East. It was lowest in the Caribbean and Latin America.
Most importantly, the team notes that the prevalence and overall impact of low back pain increased with age.
“With ageing populations throughout the world, but especially in low and middle income countries,” they say, “the number of people living with low back pain will increase substantially over coming decades.”
Although the study had several strengths, the team says there were certain limitations. For example, while the study incorporated body functions and structures, such as vision, and complex human operations, such as mobility, it did not refer to broader aspects of life, such as well-being, carer burden and economic impact.
The researchers say it is important that disease burden estimates include this information in order to assess the full impact of such conditions.
Still, the researchers say their findings reveal a need for further research on the history of low back pain by using long-term longitudinal studies incorporating people from the general population. They add:
“Governments, health service and research providers and donors need to pay far greater attention to the burden that low back pain causes than what they had done previously.”
In 2013, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested 40% of chronic back pain cases could be cured by antibiotics. Researchers from that study found an association between long-term back pain and infection with Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium commonly found on human skin.