More than 800 million people will suffer from lower back pain by 2050, a 36 per cent increase from 2020, according to an analysis published in the journal Lancet Rheumatology.
The study — an analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021 — showed that since 2017, the number of low back pain cases has ticked over to more than half a billion people. In 2020, there were approximately 619 million cases of back pain.
The landscape of back pain cases is set to shift, with the biggest increases in back pain cases to be in Asia and Africa, said researchers from University of Sydney.
Their findings, based on data from 1990 to 2020 from over 204 countries, showed that the number of cases of low back pain is growing, with modelling suggesting by 2050, 843 million people will be affected by the condition largely due to population increases and ageing of populations.
Low back pain will be the leading cause of disability in the world. If right action is not taken, low back pain can also become a precursor to chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health conditions, invasive medical procedures, and significant disability, said researchers.
“Our analysis paints a picture of growing low back pain cases globally, putting enormous pressure on our healthcare system. We need to establish a national, consistent approach to managing low back pain that is informed by research,” said lead author Professor Manuela Ferreira from Sydney Musculoskeletal Health, an initiative of the University of Sydney, Sydney Local Health District and Northern Sydney Local Health District.
The study showed that at least one third of the disability burden associated with back pain was attributable to occupational factors, smoking and being overweight.
A widespread misconception is that low back pain mostly affects adults of working age. But the study confirmed that low back pain is more common among older people. Low back pain cases were also higher among females compared to males.
“Ministries of health cannot continue ignoring the high prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions including low back pain. These conditions have important social and economic consequences, especially considering the cost of care. Now is the time to learn about effective strategies to address the high burden and to act” said Alarcos Cieza, Unit Head at the World Health Organization.