Worldwide, back pain is the single leading cause of disability, preventing many people from engaging in work as well as other everyday activities.
Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work. One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.
Back pain accounts for more than 264 million lost work days in one year—that’s two work days for every full-time worker in the country.
Experts estimate that up to 80% of the population will experience back pain at some time in their lives.
Back pain can affect people of all ages, from adolescents to the elderly.
Back pain is the third most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, behind skin disorders and osteoarthritis/joint disorders.
Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic—meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer.
Most people with low back pain recover, however, reoccurrence is common and for a small percentage of people, the condition will become chronic and disabling.
Worldwide, years lived with a disability caused by low back pain have increased by 54% between 1990 and 2015.
Low-back pain costs Americans at least $50 billion in health care costs each year—add in lost wages and decreased productivity and that figure easily rises to more than $100 billion.
What Causes Back Pain?
The back is a complicated structure of bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles. You can sprain ligaments, strain muscles, rupture disks, and irritate joints, all of which can lead to back pain. While sports injuries or accidents can cause back pain, sometimes the simplest of movements—for example, picking up a pencil from the floor— can have painful results. In addition, arthritis, poor posture, obesity, and psychological stress can cause or complicate back pain. Back pain can also directly result from diseases of the internal organs, such as kidney stones, kidney infections, blood clots, or bone loss.
Back Pain and the Opioid Epidemic
The opioid epidemic has led many respected health groups to reconsider the value of a conservative approach to low back pain (the most common condition for which opioids are prescribed). Most notably, the American College of Physicians (ACP), the largest medical specialty society in the world, updated its low back pain treatment guideline in 2017 to support a conservative approach to care.
Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and based on a review of randomized controlled trials and observational studies, the ACP guideline cites heat therapy, massage, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation as noninvasive, nondrug options for low back pain treatment. The guideline further states that only when such treatments provide little or no relief should patients move on to medicines such as ibuprofen or muscle relaxants, which research indicates have limited pain-relief effects. According to ACP, prescription opioids should be a last resort for those suffering from low back pain, as the risk of addiction and overdose may outweigh the benefits.
Tips to Prevent Back Pain
There are several simple strategies that can help to prevent the onset of back pain. Among them:
Maintain a healthy diet and weight.
Remain active—under the supervision of your chiropractor.
Avoid prolonged inactivity or bed rest.
Warm up or stretch before exercising or physical activities, such as gardening.
Maintain proper posture.
Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.
Sleep on a mattress of medium firmness to minimize any curve in your spine.
When lifting an object, lift with your knees, keep the object close to your body, and do not twist.
Quit smoking. Smoking impairs blood flow, resulting in oxygen and nutrient deprivation to spinal tissues.
Work with your physical therapist to ensure that your workstation is ergonomically correct.