Low back pain causes more disability around the globe than any other condition, and accounts for a third of all work related disability, according to new research.
Almost one in 10 people (9.4 per cent) worldwide suffer from low back pain, researchers found.
The prevalence of low back pain was highest in Western Europe, followed by North Africa and the Middle East, and lowest in the Caribbean and Latin America.
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As world population growth gathers pace, and the proportion of elderly rises, the problem is set to worsen over coming decades, warn researchers, who urge governments and health services to take the issue more seriously than they have done so far.
The researchers based their findings on data for the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study, which assesses ill health/disability arising from all conditions in 187 countries- grouped into 21 regions – for 1990, 2005, and 2010.
They looked at the prevalence, incidence, remission, duration, and risk of death associated with low back pain in 117 published studies covering 47 countries and 16 of the 21 Global Disease world regions; plus surveys in five countries about the impact of acute and severe chronic low back pain with and without leg pain; and data from national health surveys in many countries.
The authors then assessed the toll taken by low back pain in terms of disability adjusted life years (DALYs).
These are worked out, by combining the number of years of life lost as a result of early death, and the number of years
lived with disability.
Out of all 291 conditions studied, low back pain came top of the league table in terms of years lost to disability, and sixth in terms of DALYs, researchers said.
It was ranked as the greatest contributor to disability in 12 of the 21 world regions, and the greatest contributor to overall burden in Western Europe and Australasia.
“With ageing 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,” researchers said.
According to another study, low back pain disability linked to workplace factors accounts for a third of all work related disability around the globe.
Agricultural sector workers and those aged between 35 and 65 seem to be at greatest risk. Agricultural sector workers were almost four times as likely to develop low back pain disability as any other group of workers.
Researchers showed that in 2010 there were just short of 22 million DALYs worldwide caused by workplace related low back pain.
The largest number of DALYs were in regions with the highest populations – Asia and North Africa and the Middle East.
The studies are published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.