Australia to see 50 per cent increase in back pain

·2-min read

The number of people experiencing lower back pain in Australia is set to increase by 50 per cent by 2050, putting enormous pressure on the health-care system.

Researchers estimate there will be more than 800 million cases of low back pain globally in 2050, a 36 per cent increase from 2020 with Australians particularly hard hit.

A study published in Lancet Rheumatology on Tuesday used modelling based on the analysis of more than 30 years of data and said the condition was worsening largely due to population ageing and increases.

Lead author Manuela Ferreira from Sydney Musculoskeletal Health, an initiative of the University of Sydney, Sydney Local Health District and Northern Sydney Local Health District said researchers are concerned this will lead to a health-care crisis, as low back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world.

"Our analysis paints a picture of growing low back pain cases globally, putting enormous pressure on our health-care system," she said.

Professor Ferreira said the current response to back pain has been reactive and a national, consistent approach is needed.

The study revealed at least one third of the disability burden associated with back pain was attributable to occupational factors, smoking and being overweight.

It also dispelled the misconception that low back pain mostly affects adults of working age, with the condition more common among older people and higher rates among women.

Prof Ferreira said current clinical guidelines for back pain treatment and management do not provide specific recommendations for older people who have more complex medical histories and are more likely to be prescribed strong medication.

"This is not ideal and can have a negative impact on their function and quality of life, especially as these analgesics may interfere with their other existing medications," she said.

Co-author Katie de Luca from Central Queensland University said if the right action is not taken, low back pain can become a precursor to chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health conditions, invasive medical procedures, and significant disability.

"Low back pain continues to be the greatest cause of disability burden worldwide," Dr de Luca said.

"There are substantial socio-economic consequences of this condition, and the physical and personal impact directly threatens healthy ageing."

The study involved researchers from the University of Sydney, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington's School of Medicine and the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health.

Reseachers analysed Global Burden of Disease data from 1990 to 2020 from more than 200 countries and territories to map the landscape of back pain cases over time, forming the most comprehensive picture of mortality and disability across countries, time, age and sex.