Study sounds alarm: Low back pain leading cause of disability

Over 800 million people globally may suffer back pain by 2050: Lancet study


A recent study published in the Lancet Rheumatology journal predicts that over 840 million people worldwide will experience back pain by the year 2050. The increase in cases is mainly attributed to population growth and an aging population. 

The study reveals that the largest surge in back pain cases will occur in Asia and Africa. The researchers express concern about the lack of consistent treatment approaches and limited options available, which could result in a healthcare crisis. Low back pain is currently the leading cause of disability globally. 

"Our analysis paints a picture of growing low back pain cases globally, putting enormous pressure on our healthcare system," said study lead author, Professor Manuela Ferreira from the University of Sydney in Australia.

"We need to establish a national, consistent approach to managing low back pain that is informed by research," Ferreira said in a statement.

The study emphasises the need for a national and research-informed approach to managing this condition. The analysis also shows that since 2017, the number of low back pain cases has surpassed half a billion, with around 619 million cases reported in 2020. 

"Health systems need to respond to this enormous and rising burden of low back pain that is affecting people globally," said Professor Anthony Woolf, co-chair of the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health which is calling for priority to be given to addressing the growing burden of musculoskeletal conditions.

"Much more needs to be done to prevent low back pain and ensure timely access to care, as there are effective ways of helping people in pain," Woolf said.

Occupational factors, smoking, and being overweight contribute to at least one-third of the disability burden associated with back pain. Contrary to popular belief, the study confirms that low back pain is more prevalent among older individuals. It also highlights that females experience higher rates of low back pain compared to males. The research analyzed data from over 204 countries and territories to track the prevalence of back pain over the past three decades. 

The study calls for health systems to address this growing burden and prioritize timely access to care and prevention strategies. Experts urge for a change in global policy to prevent and manage low back pain effectively, as certain common treatments have been found to be ineffective or of unknown effectiveness. The lack of consistency in how healthcare professionals manage back pain cases and the need for specific recommendations for older individuals are also highlighted.