In a recent publication in the Lancet Rheumatology Journal, researchers revealed a troubling prediction about the rising prevalence of back pain around the world. The study reveals that approximately four out of five people experience low back pain at some point in their lives, making it one of the most common reasons for seeking medical assistance.
Back Pain epidemic
While most people with back pain, strains and sprains recover well with no long-term health complications, there is still a significant portion of the population that continually struggles with this condition. This persistent problem should not be overlooked or underestimated.
The most alarming finding of the study is the forecast that by 2050, the global count of people suffering from back pain may exceed a staggering 840 million. The increase can be mainly attributed to the aging of the population around the world. An extensive analysis of more than 30 years of data identified Asia and Africa as the regions that experienced the most substantial increase in back pain cases.
Limited treatment options for back pain have only exacerbated the problem, presenting a pressing health crisis given that low back pain is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Manuela Ferreira, lead author of the study and a professor at the University of Sydney, stresses the urgent need for a national, research-backed approach to accurately manage low back pain.
The study data revealed that since 2017, the number of people affected by low back pain has passed the 500 million mark. In 2020 alone, approximately 619 million people sought medical attention for back pain. Occupational factors, smoking, and obesity were identified as significant contributors to at least one-third of back pain cases. Challenging the misconception that low back pain predominantly affects working-age adults, the research confirmed that it is more prevalent among older people.
Growing burden affecting people
The study drew on Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data from 1990 to 2020, spanning more than 204 countries and territories, to provide a comprehensive picture of the back pain landscape over time. The Global Burden of Disease framework provides valuable information on mortality and disability trends around the world.
Professor Anthony Woolf, Co-Chairman of the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health, underscores the need for health systems to address the growing burden of low back pain affecting people around the world. He stresses the need for comprehensive efforts to prevent back pain and ensure equitable access to care, as effective pain relief approaches exist.
Experts raised their concerns in a 2018 Lancet publication, advocating for interventions focused on exercise and education. However, a crucial global policy change is required to effectively prevent and manage low back pain, with the aim of deterring the use of inappropriate treatments.
The study researchers also noted that commonly recommended treatments for low back pain, including certain surgical procedures and opioids, have proven ineffective. This underscores the importance of reassessing existing treatment paradigms to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients.
Ferreira also highlights the lack of consistency in the way health professionals handle pain cases and how health systems implement the relevant measures. Addressing this discrepancy and improving overall back pain management will be essential to mitigate the increasing burden it places on both individuals and healthcare systems.
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