According to a recent study published in the Lancet Rheumatology journal, the global prevalence of back pain is projected to affect more than 840 million individuals by the year 2050. The research, based on an analysis of over 30 years of data, reveals that this surge in cases can be attributed to factors such as population growth and the aging population. Alarmingly, the regions set to experience the highest increase in back pain cases are Asia and Africa. The study's findings raise concerns among researchers, as the inadequate and inconsistent approaches to back pain treatment, coupled with limited available options, are poised to create a healthcare crisis. Furthermore, low back pain currently stands as the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Lead author of the study, Professor Manuela Ferreira from the University of Sydney in Australia, emphasizes the urgent need for a cohesive and research-informed approach to managing low back pain. She states, "Our analysis paints a picture of growing low back pain cases globally, putting enormous pressure on our healthcare system." Since 2017, the number of reported cases has already surpassed half a billion, with approximately 619 million cases in 2020 alone. Surprisingly, it is now clear that low back pain primarily affects older individuals, debunking the misconception that it mainly afflicts adults of working age. The study also highlights a higher prevalence of low back pain among females compared to males.
The researchers employed Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data from 1990 to 2020, encompassing over 204 countries and territories, to map the trajectory of back pain cases over time. The GBD serves as the most comprehensive compilation of mortality and disability statistics, spanning various countries, age groups, and time periods. Professor Anthony Woolf, co-chair of the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health, calls for immediate action in response to the escalating burden of low back pain, advocating for prioritized attention to musculoskeletal conditions.
Despite previous concerns and recommendations published in The Lancet journal in 2018, urging global policy changes regarding prevention and management of low back pain, little progress has been made. Many commonly recommended treatments, including certain surgeries and the use of opioids, have proven either ineffective or of unknown effectiveness, according to the researchers. This lack of consistency in managing back pain cases within the healthcare profession underscores the pressing need for systemic adaptation. Notably, current clinical guidelines for back pain treatment fail to provide specific recommendations for older individuals, highlighting a critical gap in addressing their unique needs.
As the burden of low back pain continues to rise, urgent measures are required to prevent its onset and ensure timely access to appropriate care. Researchers and experts advocate for improved education, exercise interventions, and a shift away from ineffective treatments. It is crucial for health systems globally to recognize the gravity of this growing crisis and take decisive action to address the burgeoning challenges associated with back pain.
Millennium Post. (n.d.). Over 840 mn people globally may suffer back pain by 2050: Lancet study.