Back pain cases to rise sharply

A new study by researchers at the Kolling Institute estimates more than 800 million people will be living with low back pain by 2050, a 36 percent increase from 2020.

The prediction follows an analysis of 30 years of global health data from over 200 countries.

Modelling shows the number of back pain cases globally will rise to 843 million people by 2050, while in Australia, it’s expected there will be a 50 percent increase. The biggest jump is likely to be seen in Asia and Africa.

Researchers are concerned the trend will only get worse with an inconsistent approach to back pain treatment. They say many commonly recommended treatments have been found to be ineffective, including some surgeries and opioids.

Researchers say there’s also a misconception that low back pain mostly affects adults of working age. This study shows that most low back pain cases affect older people, and more women than men.

Lead author Professor Manuela Ferreira, from Sydney Musculoskeletal Health and the Kolling Institute said our analysis paints a picture of growing low back pain cases globally, putting enormous pressure on our healthcare system.

“We need to establish a national, consistent approach to managing low back pain that is informed by research,” she said.

“Currently, how we have been responding to back pain has been reactive. Australia is a global leader in back pain research, so we can be proactive and lead by example on back pain prevention.”

Senior author Professor Lyn March from the Kolling Institute said we know that most available data comes from high-income countries, making it sometimes hard to interpret these results for low to mid-income countries.

“We urgently need more and accurate data from countries of low to mid-income,” she said.

Co-author Dr Katie de Luca, from CQUniversity, said if the right action is not taken, low back pain can become a precursor to chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health conditions, invasive medical procedures, and significant disability.

“Low back pain continues to be the greatest cause of disability burden worldwide. There are substantial socio-economic consequences of this condition, and the physical and personal impact directly threatens healthy ageing.”

The study analysed global health data from 1990 to 2020. It is the first study to inform modelling for the future prevalence of back pain. The findings have been published in Lancet Rheumatology.