Low Back Pain, Why Is It So Common?

Health Update: Low Back Pain

This question has plagued all of us, including researchers for a long time! Could it be because we’re all inherently lazy and don’t exercise enough? Or maybe it’s because we have a job that’s too demanding on our back? To properly address this question, here are some interesting facts:

  1. The prevalence of low back pain (LBP) is common, as 70-85% of ALL PEOPLE have back pain that requires treatment of some sort at some time in life.
  2. On a yearly basis, the annual prevalence of back pain averages 30% and once you have back pain, the likelihood of recurrence is high.
  3. Back pain is the most common cause of activity limitation in people less than 45 years of age.
  4. Back pain is the 2nd most frequent reason for physician visits, the 5th ranking reason for hospital admissions, and is the 3rd most common cause for surgical procedures.
  5. About 2% of the US workforce receives compensation for back injuries annually.
  6. Similar statistics exist for other countries, including the UK and Sweden.

So, what are the common links as to why back pain is so common? One reason has to do with the biomechanics of the biped – that is, the two legged animal. When compared to the 4-legged species, the vertically loaded spine carries more weight in the low back, shows disk and joint deterioration and/or arthritis much sooner, and we overload the back more frequently because, well, we can! We have 2 free arms to lift and carry items that often weigh way too much for our back to be able to safely handle. We also lift and carry using poor technique. Another reason is anatomical as the blood supply to our disks is poor at best, and becomes virtually non-existent after age 30. That makes healing of disk tears or cracks nearly impossible. Risk factors for increased back injury include heavy manual lifting requirements, poor or low control of the work environment, and prior incidence of low back pain.

Other risk factors include psychosocial issues such as fear of injury, beliefs that pain means one should not work, beliefs that treatment or time will not help resolve a back episode, the inability to control the condition, high anxiety and/or depression levels, and more. Because there are so many reasons back problems exist, since the early 1990’s, it has been strongly encouraged that we as health care providers utilize a “biopsychosocial model” of managing those suffering with low back pain, which requires not only treatment but proper patient education putting to rest unnecessary fears about back pain.

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