Back pain is one of the world’s biggest health problems that most people will experience during some stage in their lives.
We’ve explored just how widespread it is and the detrimental effects, the huge cost to individuals and society, as well as unpacking the different types of treatment available to aid recovery.
Back Pain Stats and Facts: A Quick Summary
- 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point in life
- 10% of the world’s population suffer from lower back pain
- Back pain is the number one cause of disability worldwide
- Americans spend at least $50 billion annually on treating back pain
- Women suffer from back pain more than men
- Lower back pain becomes more common as you get older
- 3 million years of productive life is lost in the US every year due to back pain
- 29% of Americans believe stress is the cause of their back pain
Key Statistics on Back Pain: Infographic
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Alarming Back Pain Statistics
To illustrate the scale of the problem, we’ve compiled 39 evidence-based back pain statistics:
1. Back pain is the number 1 cause of disability worldwide and prevents people from not only working, but from doing everyday simple activities.
According to an in-depth analysis by the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017, that included 68,781 data sources from 195 countries, the top six leading causes of disability are:
- Low back pain (LBP)
- Headache disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Age-related hearing loss
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (often just referred to as COPD).
2. There are thought to be 540 million people affected globally at any one time.
3. Experts have predicted that approximately 75-85% of Americans will have some form of back pain in their lifetime.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the American Chiropractic Association have both stated that 80% of the population will experience lower back pain.
One-half of all working Americans, which equates to around 80 million, admit to having back pain symptoms each year.
95% of those suffering will recover within a few months, with only 5% developing chronic LBP (i.e pain that lasts for 3 months or longer).
However, reoccurrence is frequent, ranging from a 20-44% likelihood within one year for those employed and aged between 15-64 years old.
This number soars when you also consider back pain due to back injuries in the workplace.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) conducted research revealing injuries affect over 600,000 American workers each year, to the tune of more than $50 billion annually.
So what causes it?
There is a stack of potential reasons but research indicates that the majority of cases are either mechanical or non-organic.
Basically, they aren’t caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer.
4. The older you get, the greater the likelihood of chronic LBP.
A review of 28 studies into this very topic revealed that prevalence increased from 30 years of age to 60 years old. The following percentages have been shared:
- 24-39 years old – 4.2%
- 20-59 years old – 19.6%
5. The amount of people living with a disability caused by this condition increased by 54% between 1990 and 2015.
The real shocker is the link with suicide:
6. Over 20% of pain-related suicides are as a result of back pain.
The most common categories were:
- Spine pain (24%)
- Musculoskeletal pain (20.8%)
With the most common conditions listed as:
- Back pain (22.6%)
- Cancer (12%)
- Arthritis (7.9%)
- Migraine (5.2%)
- Fibromyalgia (5.1%)
- Diabetes, including diabetic neuropathy (4.9%)
- Headache (4.6%)
7. A back problem is the third most common reason to visit the doctor’s office.
Mayo Clinic carried out a study involving 142,377 people (53% female and 47% male) that revealed the top 5 reasons for going to see a physician are:
- Skin disorders (42.7%)
- Osteoarthritis and joint disorders (33.6%)
- Back problems (23.9%)
- Disorders of lipid metabolism (22.4%)
- Upper respiratory disease (22.1%; excluding asthma).
Low Back Pain Statistics
There’s a lot of talk about LBP. Just so you know exactly what area we’re referring to, it starts below the ribcage and is often referred to as the lumbar region.
It is thought that people with physically demanding jobs, physical and mental conditions, smokers, and those classed as obese, are at far greater risk of suffering this ailment.
It’s a huge concern to many and we’ve compiled all the statistics and data you need to know.
1. An estimated 10% of the world’s population suffers from LBP.
This is according to research by the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases (based on over 100 studies of 780 cases in more than 80 countries). And in the US, the number of people suffering is on the rise.
2. LBP is also common for children and adolescents, quite often beginning in childhood.
This can result in limitations when it comes to carrying out activities, school absenteeism or in worst case scenarios, it can lead to excluding physical activities from everyday life.
Low-back pain typically occurs between the age of 30-50; there’s a correlation between advancing age and likelihood of developing this ailment.
3. When it comes to women, there’s a higher prevalence across all age groups in comparison to men.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) based on household interviews among the civilian population, unearthed that nearly a third of the female adult population suffered from LBP, compared to a quarter of the male adult population.
CDC also shared the breakdown by age groups when it comes to back pain in the last three months. Please see the table below:
|Percent of adults with pain during the past 3 months|
|75 years and over||29.7||37.3|
We have some more bad news for our female readership:
4. 80% of women state it affects their daily routine and 10% report that they are unable to work.
The University of Michigan carried out research highlighting that approximately half of pregnant women will have significant complaints of backache.
And if that was enough, it is the most common cause of sick leave after birth with LBP increasing even more after the menopause.
That said, the American Physical Therapy Association explained that women (20%) are less likely to report that low back pain affects their ability to do their work, as opposed to men (31%).
5. Back pain is a huge challenge to international health systems.
Both disability and the costs attributed to LBP are projected to increase in the future, especially in low-income and middle-income countries, where the health systems aren’t equipped to cope with this growing burden on society.
6. LBP is in the top five reasons for visiting an emergency department.
Annually, in the US, it results in 2.6 million emergency visits, with high rates of opioid prescriptions issued.
7. More than a quarter of adults report experiencing LBP during the past 3 months.
Statistics about the Cost of Back Pain
Back pain has a major economic impact on both patients, healthcare systems and society.
1. Americans spend at least $50 billion annually on treating back pain.
The American Chiropractic Association states that if you then add in lost wages and decreased productivity (often called indirect costs), that figure easily rises to more than $100 billion.
There’s no doubt that chronic back pain sufferers account for a large chunk of this calculation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) equate this to $1,685 per employee per year.
3. A staggering 3 million years of productive life is lost in the US every year to back pain.
4. Costs vary substantially for people with LBP as it depends on their treatment and the severity.
According to a study published in the journal Health Services Research, initial treatment costs for patients were 50% lower when the primary care consultation was followed by a physical therapy referral rather than an advanced imaging referral.
But that’s not all:
Using physical therapy as a first management strategy resulted in 72% fewer costs within the first year.
Those who received physical therapy first were less likely to receive surgery and injections, and they made fewer specialist and emergency department visits within a year of primary consultation.
Workplace Back Pain Statistics
Work can be a literal pain as our bodies aren’t designed for sedentary lifestyles, so sitting still for long periods of time can take its toll.
1. Back pain is the most common reason for missing work.
One-half of all Americans in employment admit to having these symptoms annually, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirming that workers take an average of 12 sick days to recuperate before going back to work.
2. 54% of Americans who experience pain, spend most of their day at work sitting.
Could this be prevented?
The answer, in many cases, is ‘yes!’:
3. Up to 1/3 of back injuries could be prevented through a better designed job workspace.
Standing desks have grown in popularity. Harvard Medical School shared that one of the main benefits of a standing desk is that it may help to reduce both back and neck pain.
However, here’s the deal, there are mixed reviews:
A study at the University of Waterloo investigated the effectiveness of standing desks and revealed that 40% of people without back problems, developed lower back pain after regularly standing for two hours.
Some more active jobs increase our chances of back injury, which results in back pain.
If your work involves repetitive actions like lifting materials, sudden movements, whole body vibrations, lifting and twisting simultaneously or bending for long periods of time, you will be more prone to injuries.
Before the global pandemic in 2020 only 1 in 6 Americans worked from home, roughly 26 million. However, now with surge in remote working, the risk of developing/exacerbating back pain increases.
4. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics unearthed that one million workers, or one in five, suffer from these types of injuries each year.
5. Musculoskeletal disorders involving the back, in 2016, equated to 38.5 percent of all work-related musculoskeletal disorders and led to absence from work.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics discovered the most affected occupations that experienced musculoskeletal disorders, and had to take a period of leave from the workplace, were:
- Nursing assistants (52.8%)
- Stock and order fillers (45.7%)
- Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers (43%)
- Maintenance and repair workers (42.5%)
- Janitors and cleaners (37.5%)
- Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers (32.4%).
6. In some industries, back injuries result in a higher number of job transfers or restrictions to duties, as opposed to days missed from work.
Take general merchandise stores for example, there were 31.8 cases per 10,000 job transfers or restrictions reported.
Be sure to check out our statistics on back injuries – they’re well worth a read and if you’re suffering from one, you’re not alone!
Back Pain and the Impact on Sleep
Once you add pain into the mix, it can play havoc with our slumber.
1. Over one-third of adults say back pain has affected their ability to engage in everyday tasks (39%), exercise (38%) and sleep (37%).
The National Sleep Foundation shared the 2015 Sleep in AmericaTM Poll which highlighted there’s an average 42 minutes sleep debt when people suffer with chronic pain, compared to 14 minutes for those experiencing acute pain.
65% of those with no pain reporting a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ sleep quality, and only 45% of those with acute pain and 37% of those with chronic stating the same.
23% of those with chronic pain reported feeling more stressed, in comparison to 7% without pain. When we’re more stressed, it jeopardizes our chance of a good night’s sleep.
Anyone who wants to improve their sleep, can check out The Good Body’s list of the top things to help your slumber.
Statistics about Back Pain Treatment
As back pain is a common problem and has the potential to interfere with every aspect of your life, it’s fundamental to your recovery to get the right treatment.
1. 37% of Americans experience LBP and do not seek professional help to ease their symptoms.
2. Only 10% of people find out the root cause of their pain because there could potentially be many factors coming into play.
3. 29% of Americans expressed that they believe stress is the cause of their back pain.
Statista conducted an online survey, with over 700 people aged 18 years and older, and they identified these top seven triggers:
- Stress (29%)
- Not enough / weak muscles (26%)
- Physical work (26%)
- Being overweight (25%)
- Spinal disc herniation (21%)
- Sitting at desk (20%)
- Accident (7%).
4. From 1994 to 2005, MRI scans of the lumbar region increased by more than 300% in Medicare beneficiaries.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has provided data that lists the US as a world leader both in the availability (second only to Japan) and utilization of MRI scanners.
However, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, fewer than 1% of imaging tests actually identify the cause of the problem.
5. 32% of healthcare for LBP in the US goes against clinical guidelines.
This is based on 489 patients receiving 4,950 care processes. Even then, the World Health Organization (WHO) says this percentage is likely to be an underestimation because image diagnostic imaging tests weren’t counted.
Major international clinical guidelines now acknowledge that many people don’t require very much in terms of formal treatment.
On the occasions where treatment is necessary, the recommendation by the WHO is to discourage the use of pain medication, steroid injections and spinal surgery, and instead promote physical and psychological therapies.
Different Types of Back Pain Treatment
As we have already learned, back pain is complex and a one-size-fits all approach will not work. Here we have outlined some of the treatment options out there:
A quick and simple way to treat it, may be through medication to control the pain, in the form of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
1. Painkillers are the number one go to technique to relieve back pain.
In a survey carried out by Statista in 2017, respondents shared their go-to methods:
- Painkillers – 49%
- Physical rest – 32%
- Specific back exercises – 30%
- Moving a bit every day – 28%
- Analgesic ointment and patches – 25%
As explained by Harvard Medical School, you need to bear in mind that pain relievers are only really designed for short-term relief and just treat the symptoms.
This treatment is a popular one and for good reason.
2. The chiropractic industry is huge in the US, with over 70,000 licensed chiropractors.
The American College of Physicians, suggested in its 2017 clinical practice guideline, that spinal manipulation is a recommended treatment for chronic LBP, as it shows some evidence of effectiveness.
3. Research by the University of Michigan states, 4 out of every 10 Americans seeking help will initially turn to chiropractors.
Primary care physicians are also popular with 40% of people turning to them in the first instance and only 20% to a subspecialist.
Chiropractic treatment is a go-to with the military:
Results of a 2018 assessment with 750 active duty US military personnel with LBP, found that those who received chiropractic care, in addition to usual care, had better short-term improvements in low-back pain intensity (and pain-related disability) than those who only received usual medical care.
4. Clinical guidelines regularly recommend physical therapy and this may include: exercises, superficial heat and manual therapy.
Spine pain is one of the top reasons why people opt for this but it has mixed reviews.
For more specific information and some intriguing statistics about physical therapy, have a read of our article.
This is definitely a more serious way to deal with being in agony.
5. Out of the 56 million Americans that have back pain, a mere 5% actually require surgery.
But that doesn’t stop people having it. The Asian Spine Journal reported that in the US between 1998-2008, the annual number of lumbar fusion surgeries performed surged from 77,682 to 210,407. With surgery comes huge costs; the direct yearly cost of spinal fusion surgery in 2004 was reported as over 16 billion dollars.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS, is the delivery of electric current to the skin through electrodes to relieve pain.
In recent years this has become a common at home treatment, once a patient has been adequately instructed by a medical professional.
6. The number of Medicare beneficiaries purchasing a TENS unit doubled between 2006 (40,579) and 2010 (84,705).
However, they can now be purchased over the counter (OTC) for home use.
Steroid injections are another option people explore for relieving back pain.
7. There has been a significant increase in charges per injection by over 100% (after inflation) from 2009-2019.
However, the efficacy of them is limited. They may offer temporary relief from sciatica, but American guidelines (based on systematic reviews) conclude that they don’t reduce the rate of subsequent surgery.
Due to the increasing rates and charges, there was a six-fold increase in spinal injection fees amongst Medicare expenses. During this time, the Medicare population only increased by 12%.
8. Acupuncture has been endorsed as a treatment of acute LBP in US medical guidelines.
A systematic review into lower back pain discovered that acupuncture may be more effective when it comes to improving symptoms in comparison to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
It also appears to be associated with fewer side effects but evidence is sparse.
For people suffering with chronic LBP, exercise can help strengthen the lumbar region and even prevent it.
9. Health guidelines promote the avoidance of bed rest, and the continuation with activities as usual.
That said, the Lancet discovered that prescription medications were prescribed to around 60% of emergency department visits for LBP, with only half of people with chronic back pain prescribed exercise.
But here’s a really important nugget of information:
Exercise that increases the aerobic capacity and muscular strength (especially when it comes to the lumbar extensor muscles) is great for patients as it can help to assist them to complete normal daily activities.
There is no evidence available to show that a particular type of exercise is better than another. When selecting one, you should just think about preferences, needs and capabilities.
According to Medical News Today, the top 10 exercises you could do at home if you aren’t in serious pain are:
- Knee-to-chest stretches
- Low back rotational stretches
- Draw in maneuvers
- Pelvic tilts
- Lying lateral leg lifts
- Cat stretches
- Seated lower back rotational stretches
- Partial curls.
Consult a physician before embarking on any exercises as it is important you do them correctly and minimize risk. You want to focus on those that strengthen your muscles and avoid any that will cause more harm than good so speak to a professional!
The Good Body Reading Tip: It’s also well worth checking out our interview with chiropractor Dr. Kai Tiltmann as he shares advice about how to find the right exercise for you.
Training the spine is so important but you need to ensure you don’t do more harm than good. He was once a chiropractic patient himself, so knows all too well the crippling effects of back pain.
- American Chiropractic Association (2020). Back Pain Facts and Statistics [Online]. Available from: https://www.acatoday.org/Patients/What-is-Chiropractic/Back-Pain-Facts-and-Statistics [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- The Guardian (2018). Back pain: how to live with one of the world’s biggest health problems [Online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/14/back-pain-how-to-live-with-one-of-the-worlds-biggest-health-problems [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- American Association of Neurological Surgeons (2020). Low Back Pain [Online]. Available from: https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Low-Back-Pain [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Revista de Saúde Pública (2015). Prevalence of chronic low back pain: systematic review [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4603263/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- The Good Body (2020). 21 Back Injury Statistics: Spine-chilling Facts and Figures [Online]. Available from: https://www.thegoodbody.com/back-injury-statistics/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Annals of Internal Medicine (2018). Chronic Pain Among Suicide Decedents, 2003 to 2014: Findings From the National Violent Death Reporting System [Online]. Available from: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M18-0830 [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Mayo Clinic (2015). Why do patients visit their doctors? Assessing the most prevalent conditions in a defined US population [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3564521/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases (2014). The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study [Online]. Available from: https://ard.bmj.com/content/73/6/968.abstract [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- BMC Pediatrics (2013). revalence of low back pain in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3571904/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Severe headache or migraine, low back pain, and neck pain among adults aged 18 and over, by selected characteristics: United States, selected years 1997–2013 [Online]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2014/046.pdf [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Hippokratio General Hospital of Thessaloniki (2015). Pregnancy-related low back pain [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3306025/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- The Lancet (2018). What low back pain is and why we need to pay attention [Online]. Available from: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)30480-X/fulltext [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- The Lancet (2018). Low back pain affects 540 million people worldwide, but too many patients receive the wrong care [Online]. Available from: https://www.oulu.fi/sites/default/files/news/TheLancet_LowBackPain.pdf [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2020). Low Back Pain Fact Sheet [Online]. Available from: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- American Chiropractic Association (see footnote 1) ↩
- The Good Body (see footnote 5) ↩
- The Lancet (see footnote 13) ↩
- The MedRisk Blog (2015). Statistics Spotlight: Physical Therapy Reduces Costs [Online]. Available from: https://www.medrisknet.com/statistics-spotlight-physical-therapy-reduces-costs/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- American Chiropractic Association (see footnote 1) ↩
- American Physical Therapy Association (2020). Most Americans Live with Low Back Pain – and Don’t Seek Treatment [Online]. Available from: https://www.prweb.com/releases/apta/low_back_pain_survey/prweb9366244.htm [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- The Good Body (see footnote 5) ↩
- U.S Department of Labor (2015). Back Injuries - Nation’s #1 Workplace Safety Problem [Online]. Available from: https://www.smssi.com/wp-content/uploads/back-injuries-nations-1-workplace-safety-problem.pdf [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- The Good Body (see footnote 5) ↩
- U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018). Head, back, and hand injuries resulting in days away from work or job transfer or restriction [Online]. Available from: https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2018/head-back-and-hand-injuries-resulting-in-days-away-from-work-or-job-transfer-or-restriction.htm?view_full [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- American Physical Therapy Association (see footnote 20) ↩
- American Physical Therapy Association (see footnote 20) ↩
- American Family Physician (2007). Nonspecific Low Back Pain and Return to Work [Online]. Available from: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/1115/p1497.html [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Statista (2017). Percentage of adults in the U.S. who believed select sources were the cause of their back pain as of February 2017 [Online]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/680812/self-reported-causes-of-back-pain-adults-us/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (2009). Overtreating Chronic Back Pain: Time to Back Off? [Online]. Available from: https://www.jabfm.org/content/22/1/62.full [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- World Health Organization (2019). Care for low back pain: can health systems deliver? [Online]. Available from: https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/97/6/18-226050.pdf [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- World Health Organization (see footnote 30) ↩
- Statista (2017). Percentage of adults in the U.S. who used select techniques to relieve back pain as of February 2017 [Online]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/680723/ways-to-relieve-back-pain-adults-us/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- University of Michigan (2010). Acute Low Back Pain [Online]. Available from: http://www.med.umich.edu/1info/FHP/practiceguides/back/back.pdf [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Pain and Therapy (2018). Physical Therapy Approaches in the Treatment of Low Back Pain [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6251828/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- The Good Body (2019). 4 Of The Most Surprising (And Alarming) Back Pain Statistics [Online]. Available from: https://www.thegoodbody.com/back-pain-statistics/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Medicare Coverage Database (2012). Decision Memo for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Chronic Low Back Pain (CAG-00429N [Online]. Available from: https://www.cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/details/nca-decision-memo.aspx?NCAId=256 [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩
- Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (see footnote 29) ↩
- World Health Organization (see footnote 30) ↩
- Journal of Internal Medicine (2001). Evaluating and Managing Acute Low Back Pain in the Primary Care Setting [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1495170/ [Accessed 6 December 2020]. ↩