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The Prevalence of Back Pain

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 16 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Prevalence; Incidence; United Kingdom;

Before being able to provide statistics regarding the prevalence of back pain, the terms prevalence and incidence must first be defined. Prevalence is the estimated number of people living with or managing back pain at any given time, which could be a calendar month or an annual rate. Any research into discovering these rates must define the time span that the study has been taken over. Incidence is interpreted as the annual diagnosis rate therefore it is obvious to see that the two terms can achieve very different results and should not be confused.

Prevalence of Back Pain within the U.K.

The lower back has the unfortunate function of being responsible for supporting most of the body's weight, therefore making it particularly vulnerable to damage and strain. It wouldn't be presumptuous to assume that the incidence rates will increase significantly in forthcoming years due to the population overall becoming increasingly obese.

It is estimated that in the United Kingdom, that up to 4 out of every 5 adults aged 16 or over, will experience back pain at some point in their lifetime, whether it be only for one or two days or longer periods of several months. Of these numbers, around one fifth reported it as their first occurrence of experiencing back pain. Around 19 per 20 reported cases of acute back pain are classed as simple low back pain or as being 'non-specific'. Of these, three-quarters have a significantly reduced amount of pain or are pain free and resuming normal activity within 4 weeks; of the remaining sufferers, 9 out of 10 are pain free at 6 weeks.

Back pain is more prevalent between the ages of 35 and 55, perhaps due to the nature of occupational hazards. There is also a trend for back pain to be more common in women of middle age, possibly because of the onset of osteoporosis in this group.Across Great Britain, there seems to be no major differences in the prevalence of back pain between counties, more between sex, occupation and lifestyle choices.

Costs to the NHS

Coming second only to the common cold, back pain is the highest reason for patients to seek medical advice accounting for almost 7 million GP visits annually. Estimated costs to the NHS are around £481 million per year, with a further £197 million in non-NHS costs such as private consultations and prescriptions.

Effects on Business

Many back injuries occur in the work-place and costs to UK business can be in excess of £5 billion annually, with 50 million days of absence and upwards of 30% of employers’ accident litigation cases being accounted to back pain. The average number of days lost annually per sufferer is around 19. The actual costs are hard to discover as incapacity and loss of ability to carry out daily activities are incalculable.

International Prevalence

Global statistics vary greatly with possible reasons being due to the lack of access to medical practitioners, financial constraints to accessing healthcare, differences in diagnostic tools, unreported numbers with sufferers coping alone and individual and cultural differences in pain perceptions and thresh holds.

Prevalence in Children

The actual statistics determining the presence of back pain in children is very difficult to gauge, as any back pain that doesn't resolve within a few days needs medical attention as it could be a sign of a multitude of potentially serious medical conditions. Such conditions may come with other symptoms causing medical advice being sought, adding to the difficulty in measuring the statistics.

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