A comprehensive analysis of more than three decades of data indicates that the prevalence of low back pain is increasing. Projections suggest that by 2050, approximately 843 million individuals worldwide will be affected by this condition, primarily due to population growth and aging. This concerning trend, coupled with the absence of a consistent approach to back pain treatment and limited treatment options, raises concerns among researchers about an impending healthcare crisis, as low back pain is the leading cause of disability globally.

In Australia, there is expected to be an almost 50 percent rise in low back pain cases by 2050. The distribution of cases is projected to shift, with the most significant increases occurring in Asia and Africa. The findings of this study, known as the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2021 study, have been published in Lancet Rheumatology.

Lead author Professor Manuela Ferreira, affiliated with Sydney Musculoskeletal Health, a collaborative initiative involving the University of Sydney, Sydney Local Health District, and Northern Sydney Local Health District, emphasizes the pressing need for a national and consistent approach to managing low back pain based on research. She advocates for a proactive stance on back pain prevention, leveraging Australia’s position as a global leader in back pain research.

The study reveals notable milestones in low back pain cases. Since 2017, the number of individuals affected by this condition has surpassed half a billion, reaching approximately 619 million cases in 2020. Occupational factors, smoking, and obesity contribute significantly to the disability burden associated with low back pain, accounting for at least one-third of cases.

Contrary to common misconception, low back pain is not limited to adults of working age; it is more prevalent among older individuals. Additionally, the study highlights a higher incidence of low back pain among females compared to males.

This study presents the most comprehensive and up-to-date data, including global projections and the impact of GBD risk factors on low back pain. It was made possible through collaborative efforts involving The University of Sydney, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, IHME’s international collaborators, and the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health.

Senior author Professor Lyn March, also affiliated with Sydney Musculoskeletal Health and the Kolling Institute, stresses the need for additional population-based data on back pain and musculoskeletal conditions from low to mid-income countries. The available data predominantly originate from high-income countries, limiting its interpretability for low to mid-income nations.

The study analyzed GBD data from 1990 to 2020 across over 204 countries and territories, offering insights into the evolving landscape of low back pain cases over time. It is the first study to provide modeling for future prevalence of back pain cases.

Recognizing the immense and escalating burden of low back pain on a global scale, healthcare systems must respond accordingly. Preventive measures and timely access to care are crucial, as effective interventions are available to alleviate pain. Co-chair of the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health, Professor Anthony Woolf, calls for prioritization of addressing the growing burden of musculoskeletal conditions.

Dr. Alarcos Cieza, Unit Head at the World Health Organization, emphasizes that ministries of health must acknowledge the high prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions, including low back pain, considering their social and economic implications. Effective strategies to tackle this burden should be adopted promptly.

The study further highlights the need to base back pain prevention on national guidelines. In 2018, independent experts expressed concerns in The Lancet and provided recommendations, particularly regarding exercise and education, to bring about a global policy change in preventing and managing low back pain and curbing inappropriate treatments. However, little progress has been made since then.


Source: Science Daily