Chronic low-back pain on the rise: Study finds 'alarming increase' in prevalence

Feb 09, 2009

The proportion of people suffering from long term, impairing low back pain has more than doubled in North Carolina since the early 1990s, according to a new study. What's more, researchers believe the increase may be indicative of a similar trend across the country.

In the study, published in the Feb. 9, 2009, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers from the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the prevalence of chronic, impairing low back pain in the state increased from 3.9 percent in 1992 to 10.2 percent in 2006. Increases were seen in both men and women, and across all ages and racial and ethnic groups.

"Considering the social and economic costs of chronic low back pain, these findings are alarming," said the study's principal investigator Timothy S. Carey, M.D., director of the Sheps Center and Sarah Graham Kenan Professor in the departments of medicine and social medicine in the UNC School of Medicine. "Low back pain is the second most common cause of disability in the United States and a common reason for missing work."

"People with chronic low back pain also use an enormous amount of health care," said the study's lead author, Janet K. Freburger, Ph.D., a research associate and fellow at the Sheps Center and a research scientist at the UNC Institute on Aging.

Carey and Freburger noted that more than 80 percent of Americans will experience an episode of low back pain at some time in their lives and that total costs of the condition are estimated at greater than $100 billion annually, with two-thirds of that due to decreased wages and productivity.

"Since the costs of back pain are rising, along with the number of cases, current treatments overall do not seem to be very effective," Carey said.

The study is thought to be the first in the United States to use similar methods and a consistent definition of chronic low back pain to examine trends in the condition's prevalence over time.

The new findings also provide a possible explanation for rising health-care costs associated with back problems.

Some researchers have concluded that increases in the use of health-care services for low back pain are due to people with low back pain seeking more care nowadays than in the past.

But the UNC researchers said their data suggests that increased prevalence may be the primary factor driving those increases in service use and costs. That's because the proportion of people in North Carolina who sought healthcare for chronic low back pain rose only moderately between 1992 and 2006 (from 73.1 percent to 84 percent), and the average number of visits to all providers remained similar.

The paper notes that until now, studies examining trends in the prevalence of chronic low back pain have been "severely lacking."

"Discerning whether the prevalence of this condition is increasing and contributing to the increase in the use of health care services is vital for developing strategies to contain costs and improve care," Freburger said.

Reasons for the increase in chronic low back pain are unclear, although possible causes include increasing rates of obesity, depression and awareness of the condition, the study said. The changing nature of the state's workforce - with a decline in the percentage of manufacturing jobs and an increase in construction and service industry jobs over the time span concerned - may be another possible factor.

More information: That study can be found at www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/77005015/home .

Source: University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Explore further: Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The science of collaboration

Aug 28, 2013

It's a long, expensive, risky road to turn a scientific breakthrough into a treatment that can help patients. Fewer organizations are trying to tackle the challenges alone, says a new paper from MIT researchers published ...

Lyme disease surge predicted for the northeastern US

Mar 16, 2012

The northeastern U.S. should prepare for a surge in Lyme disease this spring. And we can blame fluctuations in acorns and mouse populations, not the mild winter. So reports Dr. Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ...

Researchers block morphine's itchy side effect

Oct 13, 2011

Itching is one of the most prevalent side effects of powerful, pain-killing drugs like morphine, oxycodone and other opioids. The opiate-associated itch is so common that even women who get epidurals for labor ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

6 hours ago

Two recent papers by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines for Dengue fever, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and other ...

Tracking flu levels with Wikipedia

7 hours ago

Can monitoring Wikipedia hits show how many people have the flu? Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital, USA, have developed a method of estimating levels of influenza-like illness in the American population by analysing ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...