Back Pain Facts: 10 Jaw-Dropping Stats You Didn’t Know
How’s your back?
If it’s hurting, you’re not alone.
About a quarter of the worldwide population is experiencing back pain at any given point in time, and nearly all of us (around 85%) will deal with it at some point in our lives. And while it’ll only be a minor inconvenience for some, chronic back pain has a major impact on how a huge number of Americans live their everyday lives.
It affects literally every segment of the population – no matter where you live, rich or poor, black or white. Make no mistake, back pain is the unchallenged, clear-cut leading cause of disability worldwide.
So whether you’ve dealt with back pain before, are experiencing it now, or are simply being proactive to prevent future back problems, here are 10 back pain facts everyone should know.
1. Medications (Mostly) Don’t Work
Analgesic medications – paracetamol, NSAIDs, gabapentinoids, and opioids – have traditionally been the first-line recommendations by healthcare providers for back pain relief. Unfortunately, they’re all minimally effective at best for back pain.
Tylenol (or paracetamol) is the world’s most commonly used over-the-counter painkiller, but randomized trials have shown it to be essentially useless for back pain. In 2017 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) revised its guidelines on back pain, dropping its recommendation of paracetamol as a stand-alone intervention.
NSAIDs like ibuprofen (such as Advil) and diclofenac (such as Voltaren) also have been shown to offer only marginal relief from back pain compared to placebo. In a wide-ranging review of 35 studies of 6,065 people with various types of spinal pain, only one in six patients treated with NSAIDs achieved any significant reduction in pain.
More recently, painkillers called gabapentinoids have gained popularity, despite strong evidence from trials that, as far as treating back pain goes, they offer no benefits.
Even opioids such as oxycodone are rapidly being dropped from back pain treatment protocols, as research has shown they provide minimal benefit but come with a huge risk of side effects – including misuse, overdose, and dependency. In fact, long-term opioid use has been shown to actually make back pain worse (the result of something called “opioid-induced hyperalgesia” – increased pain sensitization brought on by these drugs).
2. We Spend A Lot Treating Back Pain
Americans spend nearly $90 billion every single year on back pain – not far short of the $115 billion spent annually on cancer. When you factor in the additional costs of increased health insurance premiums, that number jumps to over $150 billion!
It’s also the biggest contributor to missed work. In fact, the loss of productivity due to back pain is estimated to cost the US an extra $100 billion every year.
3. Women Have It Worse
Women are more likely to suffer from lower back pain than men – 30% of women report experiencing back problems compared to just 25% of men. Why? The biomechanical and hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, and menopause are all major contributing factors to back pain.
A recent study found that 76% of women suffer from low back and pelvic pain during pregnancy, with 10% experiencing pain severe enough it prevents them from working – but only 21% of those actually seek out help. That’s why more and more OBGYNS are recommending their patients add chiropractors to their prenatal care team. In fact, 40% of obstetricians report referring their pregnant patients to chiropractors last year.
4. Acute Pain Dissipates, But It Often Returns
While it’s true that about 90% of acute back pain cases improve within three months, studies have shown that without correcting the underlying cause, over 60% of those patients still have varying degrees of residual back pain a year later. Up to 80% of those who experience an acute low back pain episode will have a reoccurrence of the same flare-up within two years.
5. It Can Severely Affect How You Live Your Life
The American Physical Therapy Association’s 2020 MoveForward study surveyed 2,600 back pain sufferers about how their everyday life was affected. Over a third said that it stops them from being able to exercise (38% of respondents) or even perform their normal daily tasks (39% of respondents). Over 37% of people said that it prevents them from getting a full night’s sleep.
And unfortunately, those numbers continue trending the wrong way. The number of people considered disabled due to back pain increased by 54% between 1990 and 2015.
6. Spinal Fusions Are Up – And They Might Not Even Work
Over the past 25 years, the number of people electing to undergo spinal fusion for low back pain has skyrocketed, with surgeries increasing by over 700% in that timeframe. Unfortunately, they don’t exactly have an outstanding success rate.
In 2011 Cigna conducted a follow-up study of 85,000 patients who had undergone spinal fusion procedures. They found that two years post-surgery, 87% of patients were still in pain severe enough they still needed medication or some other treatment, and 15% had already undergone additional surgery for the same problem.
Even worse, according to experts, the vast majority of those surgeries are totally unnecessary. While there are certain spine conditions that do require surgery, more than 95% of back problems can be resolved without invasive procedures. In fact, for most low back conditions, clinical trials have shown that fusion surgery can’t beat nonsurgical treatments like chiropractic and physical therapy when comparing long-term outcomes.
7. Desk Work Is A Major Cause Of Back Pain
54% of lower back pain sufferers have jobs that require them to sit for most of the day. That’s because sitting puts 40% more pressure on the vulnerable structures in your spine than standing does.
The fact is, our bodies were built to stand and move throughout the day – not sit at a desk for 8 hours at a time. Standing upright puts your back and pelvis in a neutral position and allows your vertebral discs to distribute compressive forces evenly throughout your spine. Sitting, on the other hand, concentrates that stress directly on the discs in the lower back. Moreover, the muscles that hold these structures in place tend to atrophy when unused, leaving your back even more at risk for chronic problems.
Experts estimate that up to a third of back injuries could be prevented by a better-designed workplace.
8. It’s One Of The Top Reasons For Seeking Medical Help
Only the common cold beats back pain as the number one reason for visiting a healthcare provider – a whopping 18% of Americans sought help from a doctor for back pain last year.
9. Identifying The Cause Of Back Pain Can Be Tough
Like many of the patients who eventually make their way into Ascent Chiropractic know, getting the correct treatment to alleviate back pain can be a frustrating and challenging task, for both patients and healthcare providers. A definitive pathological cause – such as a fracture, a tumor, stenosis, infection, or arthritis – is only identified in about 5-15% of people with back pain. The rest is all labeled as “non-specific”.
More often than not, this results in primary care providers prescribing painkillers, anti-inflammatories, or muscle relaxers to manage the pain, or scheduling a cortisone injection and sending the patient on their way – instead of trying to fix the source of the problem.
If you can identify what’s specifically at the root of the problem, you can customize a treatment plan to address the cause instead of simply managing the symptoms. Matching the diagnosis to the treatment plan is crucial to correcting what’s causing your back pain.
10. Bed Rest Is Usually Bad For Back Pain
It seems counterintuitive, but the best self-care approach for most cases of back pain is gentle movement – at least until you can get to your chiropractor. The soft tissues and spongy discs cushioning the vertebrae rely on blood flow to deliver the nutrients and oxygen they need to function and heal. Bed rest reduces the exchange of blood and other fluids around the spine, which can prolong swelling and inflammation.
Studies show that back pain sufferers who maintain regular movement and stretching have reduced pain and length of recovery, and substantially improve their long-term ability to function.
Back Pain: The Bottom Line
Back pain is a massive problem worldwide, but there are zero reasons to suffer with it. What we do at Ascent Chiropractic for back pain is safe, proven, and should be your first option before medication or invasive surgical intervention. Ready to get started and looking for a chiropractor in Brookfield, WI? Schedule an appointment by calling us at 262-345-4166 or using our online scheduling app.