The growing number of low back pain cases will put enormous pressure on the global healthcare system and likely lead to a healthcare crisis, warn researchers.
Back pain is a very common problem among adults worldwide. There are several factors that can cause back pain, such as age, lack of exercise, excess weight, injury and certain health conditions. A new study has raised concern regarding the increasing number of cases of low back pain, which is the leading cause of disability globally.
The new Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2021 study, recently published in Lancet Rheumatology, estimated that by 2050, 843 million people will be living with low back pain. This would be an increase of 36 per cent from 2020, when there were approximately 619 million cases of back pain.
The calculation has been made based on the analysis of over 30 years of data (from 1990 to 2020) from over 204 countries and territories. Population growth and ageing of populations are mainly driving the number of low back pain cases globally, it stated.
Asia and Africa to see the biggest increases in back pain cases
According to the researchers from the University of Sydney, the biggest increases in back pain cases are likely to be seen in Asia and Africa. They projected that Australia would witness a nearly 50 per cent increase in back pain cases by 2050.
The researchers have expressed concern that lack of a consistent approach on back pain treatment, and limited treatment options could lead to a healthcare crisis, given that low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Highlighting the enormous pressure on the healthcare system due to the rising burden of low back pain, they stressed the need to establish a national, consistent approach to managing low back pain that backed by research.
Low back pain is more common in older people
The study also dispelled a widespread misconception that low back pain mostly affects adults of working age. It confirmed that low back pain is more common in older people, and more females were affected compared to males.
Most of the disability burden associated with back pain (one third) are attributed to occupational factors, smoking and being overweight.
Opioids for back pain management in older people “not ideal”
Common treatments recommended for low back pain, including some surgeries and opioids, have been found to be ineffective or have unknown effectiveness.
Lead author Professor Manuela Ferreira from Sydney Musculoskeletal Health pointed out that prescribing opioids for back pain management in older people is not ideal as these analgesics can have a negative impact on their health and quality of life, and likely interfere with their other existing medications.
Professor Ferreira emphasized the need to update clinical guidelines for back pain treatment and management.
Co-author Dr Katie de Luca, from CQUniversity cautioned that, if not treated properly, low back pain can lead to to chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health conditions, invasive medical procedures, and significant disability.
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