You might be experiencing low back for the first time, or you could have been struggling with this condition for years. No matter which it is, low back pain can be frustrating to deal with. It seems to have no rhyme or reason as to how it happens or why it flares up.
One day you are sailing along without a care in the world, the next you can’t get out of bed. One day you are running a 10k, the next you find yourself all hunched up and barely walking. We have written a lot of articles on different aspects of low back pain - and there is a lot to learn about this condition - but this week we wanted to put together a quick list of some of the top 15 fun and interesting facts to know about low back pain. While we have tried to cover some of the top questions about low back pain this isn't an exhaustive list, by any means. If you want to know more about any of the topics that we have covered we hope you will check out our website for more of our blogs.
1. Low Back Pain Is The #1 Cause Of Disability
When it comes to debilitating conditions, low back pain tops the list as the leading cause of disability. An article published by the Lancet Global Burden Of Disease in 2010 found that low back pain was the leading cause of years lived with disability (YLD) and this has not really changed in over 20 years. Musculoskeletal conditions were as problematic then as they are now. We need to find better solutions to this chronic condition.
2. Low Back Pain Increases With Age
Many people think that low back pain only really becomes an issue when you start to get old. Funnily enough, our perspective of what “old” actually is tends to change as we age. Objective data shows us that first episodes of low back pain typically happen between the 30 and 50 years of age. Not that old after all?
3. Your Mental Health Can Affect Low Back Pain
Anxiety and depression are becoming increasingly common, especially in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Depression and anxiety have actually been shown to increase both our sensitivity to, and our perceptions of, pain. Research has shown that stress can cause muscles to become more tense which leads to increased pain and a higher risk of injury. When our sensitivity to pain is increased it tends to focus our attention on the pain, as well as experiencing the pain more acutely.
4. Women Experience Low Back Pain More Often Than Men
The data can be a little confusing and contradictory, but generally speaking, in most countries that track data for low back pain, more women than men struggle with low back pain. A study conducted in Germany found that the 7 day prevalence for low back pain was higher in women (40%) than in men (32%).
Another study that was done in Spain put the prevalence of low back pain at around 18% for females and 11% for males. Pregnancy can also be a major risk factor for low back pain with the data showing that around 45% of pregnant women experience low back pain at some point during their pregnancy.
5. Low Back Pain Is Causing Increases In Disability
From 1990 to 2015 disability related to low back pain increased by 54%. As the global population increases we are seeing an ever-increasing number of low back pain cases. On top of this, people are living longer, but not always healthier, lives so they are more likely to struggle with conditions like low back pain as they age.
6. How Much Do We Spend On Back Pain Treatments Each Year?
Research shows that the average low back pain sufferer spends just over $2,000 on treatments each year. Obviously this is an average. For those that choose options like surgery, the cost can actually be much higher with average national costs ranging anywhere from around $14,000 to $26,000 for some procedures.
7. Can We Reduce The Cost Of Back Pain Treatments?
As new treatments come on to the market, hopefully the cost of treating low back pain will decrease significantly. Using treatments such as biofeedback, mindfulness, meditation, lifestyle changes, exercise and physical therapy can reduce costs by more than 55%.
8. MRIs Are Not Very Helpful In Diagnosing Low Back Pain
Most guidelines do not recommend the use of imaging unless there are certain red flags that present along with the low back pain. An MRI is not a standard test for diagnosing low back pain and often a physical examination with questions about your medical history can be sufficient for your doctor to make a diagnosis.
9. Many Treatments For Low Back Pain Are Not Based On Medical Guidelines
Around 540 million people around the world suffer from low back pain which has led to healthcare professionals creating international guidelines around the best treatment practices to manage this condition.
Sadly, data shows that most low back pain sufferers are not being treated according to these guidelines. Ineffective and, sometimes even dangerous, treatments are often recommended or purchased by people who are desperate to find relief for their debilitating condition.
10. Opioids Are Not Very Effective At Treating Low Back Pain
Many people are still using opioids even though healthcare professionals do not recommend using these medications, especially since they are only effective in about 30% of cases and can be addictive and dangerous.
11. Stress Affects Lower Back Pain
29% of Americans know that their stress levels are affecting their low back pain. When we spend hours at the office, stay late to get a project completed, or when we work a double shift, repeatedly lifting boxes at the warehouse, we know that our stress levels go up. Research has shown that stress can actually increase our feelings of pain.
Even as many of us are trying to put the global pandemic behind us, many healthcare workers continue to feel stressed. There are still large numbers of cases in certain communities and healthcare workers have been working non-stop for the past few years, often making enormous sacrifices to help others. They are spending hours and hours on their feet caring for patients.
While we all know that we should try to do things to manage our stress levels it can be hard to do. Taking time to relax and meditate can take time that we often feel that we just don't have.
12. Sitting Doesn't Help Low Back Pain
More than half of the people who struggle with low back pain spend extended periods of time sitting. Whether you are at a desk job, or drive a truck or a car for work, the research is clear - sitting spells trouble for your back. Finding ways to take regular breaks and go for short walks, or even stretching at your desk can bring some relief to those who have no choice but to sit all day.
13. The Workspace Needs A Low Back Pain Workover
Research has found that up to one third of back injuries could be prevented with a better-designed workspace. From standing desks, to giant bouncy balls, some companies are trying to make their spaces more back-friendly. Sadly, not all companies are at this stage and back pain injuries continue to be a common issue in the workplace.
14. 9/10 People Never Know The Cause Of Their Low Back Pain
Low back pain is one of the most mysterious conditions to try and diagnose. As we mentioned before, MRIs are often ineffective in diagnosing this condition. Some acute cases of low back pain can be traced back to some type of trauma but many people just wake up in pain and have no idea how it happened.
15. Your Spine Shrinks A Little Every Day
This fact is a little crazy, but definitely true. The discs between our spinal vertebrae contain a jelly-like substance that is made out of fluid. As we go throughout our day a little of this fluid leaks out shrinking the discs and bringing the vertebrae closer together. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to stay hydrated if you are looking to prevent or reduce low back pain. Keeping those discs nice and full will help them absorb the shocks associated with daily life as well as keeping you a couple of inches taller!
The more we know about low back pain the better we can either prevent it from happening to us, or the better we can manage the condition. In fact, international guidelines actually list education as one of the top treatments for managing lower back pain. When we know what to expect, what the most effective treatments are, and what some of the myths are surrounding this condition, we can do a much better job at prevention.
We hope that you found these facts interesting and helpful. For more details on any of these points check out our blog library.