Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to a large new study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
Researchers in the U.K., Australia and the U.S. studied data from the Global Burden of Disease study, which assessed the health of people in 187 countries. They found that almost one out of ten people (9.4%) suffers from lower back pain – a number likely to rise as the population ages.
“Governments, health service and research providers and donors need to pay far greater attention to the burden that low back pain causes,” wrote lead author Dr. Tony Woolf from the Royal Cornwall Hospital in the UK.
“With aging populations throughout the world, but especially in low and middle income countries, the number of people living with low back pain will increase substantially over coming decades.”
Lower back pain was most common in Western Europe, where 15% of the population suffers from it; followed by North Africa and the Middle East. It was least common in the Caribbean and Latin America.
Lower back pain is not usually linked to any serious disease. It can be triggered by any number of everyday activities, including bad posture, bending awkwardly, lifting incorrectly or standing for long periods of time.
“Many people develop back pain for no obvious reasons, and research suggests that it’s impossible to identify a specific cause of pain for around 85 per cent of people in the early stages,” a spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK told the Daily Express.
“Treatment such as physiotherapy, pain relief and exercise to keep the muscles supporting the spine strong can all help.”
Men (10.1%) are more likely to suffer from lower back pain than women (8.7%).
The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Australian Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Ageing and Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.