Back Pain: The Leading Cause of Disability Worldwide

Back Pain: The Leading Cause of Disability Worldwide
September 9, 2016

When contemplating all the health conditions that can prove disabling, back pain probably isn’t the first to spring to mind. Yet lower back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. This is a startling statistic that commonsense measures can reduce, says Dr. Kadimcherla.

Exhaustive research from 50 countries showed that lower back pain causes more disability than nearly 300 other conditions, affecting nearly 1 in 10 people across the globe. Additional research, also published in 2014, found that low back pain accounts for about one-third of work-related disability. Both studies appeared in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, driving home the fact that Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on lower back pain.

“With 4 out of 5 people stricken by lower back pain at some point in their lives, we can’t afford to ignore the true threat posed by this very real health issue,” explains Dr. Kadimcherla, who completed two spinal surgery fellowships and is a published author on spine disorders and treatment. “Back pain isn’t just a nagging problem, but can seriously chip away at our quality of life and ability to work and be productive.”

Risk Factors for Back Pain

Who’s most prone to back pain? The recent research indicates that men are more likely to suffer from lower back pain than women – 10.1% vs. 8.7% -- but that it’s impossible to identify a specific cause of pain for about 85% of those who are coping with early-stage back issues.

On the other hand, Dr. Kadimcherla says, certain risk factors are proven to leave people more susceptible to back pain. These include:

  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • Stress
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Smoking
  • Occupations requiring significant lifting or extreme stress

“Ultimately, back pain doesn’t discriminate,” Dr. Kadimcherla says. “It’s common across countries, genders, age groups, occupations, and education and income levels. But that doesn’t mean back pain, or disability resulting from it, can’t be avoided. It can.”

Tips on Preventing Back Pain

What can we do to avoid becoming one of the statistics? Dr. Kadimcherla offers these tips to practice back-related safety and prevent back pain from striking:

  • Maintain a healthy diet and weight: Extra pounds, particularly around the middle, can strain your lower back by shifting your center of gravity.
  • Stay active: “Those with back pain may think limiting exercise is prudent, but regular exercise not only eases muscle tension, but strengthens core muscles to keep back problems at bay,” Dr. Kadimcherla says.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking inhibits blood flow to spinal discs, so smokers are especially vulnerable to back pain.
  • Sleep on your side: This sleeping position puts the least amount of stress on the spine. “If you must sleep on your back or stomach, place a pillow under your hips,” he says.
  • Be smart while lifting: “The tried-and-true advice still holds: don’t bend from the waist when lifting, but bend from the knees,” Dr. Kadimcherla suggests. “Don’t twist while lifting, either.”
  • Practice good posture: Sit straight in a chair with good low-back support, such as a small pillow. “It helps to keep knees a bit higher than feet if possible, too, especially if seated for long periods,” Dr. Kadimcherla says.
  • Avoid high heels.
  • Carry bags that distribute weight evenly across the back.
  • Reduce stress: “Easier said than done, but very important when trying to ease or prevent back pain,” Dr. Kadimcherla says.

“Back pain is sometimes caused by traumatic events, such as car accidents or sports injuries,” he says. “But usually, back pain simply results from an everyday activity done incorrectly – like lifting the wrong way or sitting in the same position for the entire workday. Just making a few changes and being mindful can save your back -and your quality of life.”

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