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Over 800 million people could be living with back pain by 2030
Published on: Friday, May 26, 2023
By: ETX Daily Up, FMT
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Lower back pain is more common among older people, and more prevalent in women compared with men. (Envato Elements pic)
The ageing of the population, combined with its growing size, could be the cause of a sharp rise in the number of cases of low back pain in the world in the coming years. A new international study estimates that 843 million people could be living with back pain in 2050, compared with 619 million in 2020.

Physical trauma – as well as a decline in mental health, a lack of physical activity, and more generally a sedentary lifestyle – can be the causes of acute or chronic low back pain, which is also called lumbago or simply back pain.

A team of international researchers, including scientists from the University of Sydney, the University of Washington School of Medicine, and the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health, has analysed the number of low back pain cases worldwide, including, for the first time, global projections, drawing no less than three decades of data.

Published in the journal “The Lancet Rheumatology”, their work highlights a sharp increase in back pain cases since 2017, surpassing half a billion people to reach 619 million cases in 2020.

These numbers could still increase significantly by 2050 to reach 843 million people globally.

This projection was made possible by analysing data from over 200 countries and territories between 1990 and 2020. The increase in population size, as well as its ageing, is given as the main reason for this jump in cases of low back pain in the world.

“Our analysis paints a picture of growing low back pain cases globally, putting enormous pressure on our healthcare system. We need to establish a national, consistent approach to managing low back pain that is informed by research,” explains study lead author Manuela Ferreira.

Looking at the different regions of the world, the number of cases is expected to increase by almost 50% in Australia by 2050, while the greatest increases will be observed in Asia and Africa. However, these projections should be treated with caution due to the lack of available data for some countries.

“Most available data come from high-income countries, making it sometimes hard to interpret these results for low to mid-income countries,” said senior author Lyn March.

“We urgently need more population-based back-pain and musculoskeletal data from countries of low to middle income.”

Among other findings, the researchers suggest that occupational factors, smoking, and being overweight account for “at least one third of the disability burden associated with back pain”.

Moreover, this research challenges the common misconception that working-age adults are the most likely to suffer from back pain.

The researchers say this study has confirmed that low back pain is more common among older people. They also report more cases of low back pain among women compared with men.

“Ministries of health cannot continue ignoring the high prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions, including low back pain. These conditions have important social and economic consequences, especially considering the cost of care,” said Alarcos Cieza, unit head at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

“Now is the time to learn about effective strategies to address the high burden and to act.”

Study co-author Katie de Luca concludes: “Low back pain continues to be the greatest cause of disability burden worldwide. There are substantial socioeconomic consequences of this condition, and the physical and personal impact directly threatens healthy ageing.”

These are all factors to be taken into account to improve prevention and define new therapeutic strategies.

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