Back pain sufferers expected to increase in number


Low back pain, often simply called back pain, appears to afflict older people and women more than working adults or men respectively. — AFP

A physical trauma, a decline in mental health, a lack of physical activity, and more generally, a sedentary lifestyle, can all be 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 in Australia, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine in the United States, 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 on 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.

But that’s not all, as 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, are given as the main reasons 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 Professor Manuela Ferreira in a statement.

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.

“We urgently need more population-based back pain and musculoskeletal data from countries of low to middle income,” said senior author Prof Lyn March.

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 new international research challenges the common misconception that working-age adults are the most likely to suffer from back pain.

“Researchers say this study has confirmed that low back pain is more common among older people.”

They also report more low back pain cases among women, compared to 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.

“Now is the time to learn about effective strategies to address the high burden and to act,” World Health Organization (WHO) unit head Dr Alarcos Cieza was quoted as saying in a statement.

Study co-author Dr 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. – AFP Relaxnews

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