Over 800 million set to live with back pain by 2050

23 May 2023
Katie de Luca

Lower back pain will affect more than 800 million people worldwide by 2050, a new study co-authored by a CQUniversity academic has warned.

Analysis of over 30 years of Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data has shown 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.

The continued lack of a consistent approach on back pain treatment, and limited treatment options have researchers concerned that this will lead to a healthcare crisis, as low back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world.

In Australia, there will be a nearly 50 per cent increase in cases by 2050. The landscape of back pain cases is set to shift, with the biggest increases in back pain cases to be in Asia and Africa.

Led by Professor Manuela Ferreira at the University of Sydney, the study also reveals several milestones in back pain cases. Since 2017, the number of low back pain cases has ticked over to more than half a billion people. And at least one third of the disability burden associated with backpain was attributable to occupational factors, smoking and being overweight.

A widespread misconception is that low back pain mostly affects adults of working age. But researchers say this study has confirmed that low back pain is more common among older people. Low back pain cases were also higher among females compared to males.

“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,” Prof. Ferreira said.

“Currently, how we have been responding to back pain has been reactive. Australia is a global leader in back pain research; we can be proactive and lead by example on back pain prevention.”

The study analysed GBD data from 1990 to 2020 from over 204 countries and territories to map the landscape of back pain cases over time. The GBD is the most comprehensive picture of mortality and disability across countries, time, age, and sex.

It is also the first study to be used for modelling the future prevalence of back pain cases.

The findings are published in Lancet Rheumatology today.

CQUniversity’s Dr Katie de Luca is a co-author of the paper and 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. There are substantial socio-economic consequences of this condition, and the physical and personal impact directly threatens healthy ageing.”