This is confirmed by an analysis carried out during more than 30 years which warns that the lack of a coherent approach to the treatment of low back pain and the limited therapeutic options make researchers fear a health crisis, since low back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world.
The results are published today in “The Lancet Rheumatology” and constitute the new study Global Burden of Disease 2021.
“Our analysis paints a picture of increasing cases of low back pain around the world, putting enormous pressure on our healthcare system. We need to establish a consistent national research-based approach to low back pain treatment,” says lead author Professor Manuela Ferreira, from Sydney Musculoskeletal Health at the University of Sydney, Australia.
“Currently, our response to back pain has been reactive. Australia is a world leader in back pain research; we can be proactive and lead by example in the prevention of back pain”, affirms Ferreira.
The study reveals several milestones in back pain cases. Since 2017, the number of low back pain cases has exceeded 500 million people and already in 2020, there were approximately 619 million cases of back pain.
The report notes that at least a third of the burden of disability associated with back pain was attributable to occupational factors, smoking and being overweight.
A widespread misconception is that low back pain primarily affects adults of working age. But the researchers say this study has confirmed that low back pain is more common among older people. Cases of low back pain were also higher among women than among men.
This is the most complete and up-to-date data available, including for the first time global projections and the contribution of GDM risk factors to low back pain. The work was made possible through the joint efforts of the University of Sydney, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at Washington University School of Medicine (healthdata.org), IHME’s international collaborators, and the World Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health (gmusc.com).
“We also know that most of the available data comes from high-income countries, so it is sometimes difficult to interpret these results for low- to middle-income countries. We urgently need more population-based data on back pain and musculoskeletal disorders from low- and middle-income countries,” said lead author Professor Lyn March, from Sydney Musculoskeletal Health and the Kolling Institute.
The study analyzed GBD data from 1990 to 2020 from more than 204 countries and territories to chart the landscape of back pain cases over time. The GBD is the most comprehensive view of mortality and disability across countries, time, age, and age.
Much more needs to be done to prevent low back pain and ensure timely access to care
It is also the first study to be used to model the future prevalence of back pain cases.
“Health care systems must respond to this enormous and growing burden of low back pain affecting the world population. Much more needs to be done to prevent low back pain and ensure timely access to care, as there are effective ways to help people in pain,” said Anthony Woolf, Co-Chairman of the World Alliance for Musculoskeletal Healthwhich calls for priority to be given to addressing the growing burden of musculoskeletal conditions.
In 2018, experts (independent of this study) expressed their concerns in “The Lancet” and gave recommendations, especially in relation to exercise and education, about the need for global policy change on how best to prevent and manage low back pain to stop the rise of inappropriate treatments.
However, since then there has been little change. Commonly recommended treatments for low back pain have been found to be of unknown efficacy or ineffective, such as some surgical interventions and opioids.
Ferreira affirms that there is a lack of consistency in the way in which health professionals treat cases of low back pain and that the health system must adapt. “It may surprise some that current clinical guidelines for the treatment and management of back pain do not offer specific recommendations for older people.”
Co-author Katie de Luca, from CQUniversity, says that if the right steps aren’t taken, low back pain can become a precursor to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental disorders, invasive medical procedures, and significant disability.