Patients are always asking me if their problem is common. Have I seen anything like it before? Why them? Why has their back gone? Why have they been affected? I try to reassure them that they're not alone - low back pain, is unfortunately, a very common problem and, the majority of people will suffer from it at some point during their lives. However, it is difficult to find reliable evidence that answers this question - just how many people suffer with low back pain? It is easy to know how many people we see with back pain in a clinic, or how many people go to their doctor with a sore back, or even how many people take time off work with a back injury, but we don't know just how many people are walking around with low back pain on a daily basis.
Or, at least, we didn't - until recently. A reliable study,* published recently in a well-respected journal, has looked at just this question - what is the prevalence of low back pain in the general population? This study, conducted by the eminent Professor Charlotte Lebeouf-Yde over a one-year period, found an interesting pattern of low back pain in a random population of 50 year olds, revealing three distinct, but virtually equally-sized groups: 1) those who mainly do not have LBP (35%), 2) those who have it at times (30%), and 3) those who have it more or less always (35%). *Chiropractic & Manual Therapies 2013, 21:30
"35% of people have low back pain more or less always"
This is one of the few studies that is truly representative of the occurrence of low back pain the general population; participants were randomly selected, not chosen in response to a particular advert or from a particular place of work or a treatment clinic. They came from all walks of life, were from different socioeconomic backgrounds, had different levels of education and did all sorts of different jobs - so truly represented the 'normal, average Joe'. The participants were sent a text message every fortnight, asking them how many days their low back had bothered them, and how many days (if any) they'd had to take off work because of it. These regular text messages meant that the participants didn't have to rely on their memory and recall their pain over a long period, thus further enhancing the reliability of the data. Whilst there was some dropout from the study, the majority participated in the study for the whole year, giving a very valuable pool of data.
"3% had low back pain every day for a year!"
Further detailed analysis of the data revealed more - a lucky 19% of the sample did not experience any low back pain at all, whilst an unlucky 3% had low back pain every day for the entire year! 9% experienced some low back pain for several days every fortnight (but not every day) but the majority experienced episodes of low back pain lasting anything from a few days to a few weeks.
So, what does this study mean? It shows just how common low back pain is within the general population. Whilst a fortunate third of people didn't experience any low back pain at all in an entire year, the remainder experienced some intermittent or constant low back pain. From studies like this which show just how common low back pain is, we can also anticipate the knock-on effect that low back pain has at an individual and societal level - the impact on a person's everyday life with ongoing pain and disability, the number of days off work, the potential loss of income and the resulting cost to society, not to mention the burden on our already stretched NHS. It highlights the necessity to provide a solution to this enormous problem - like chiropractic treatment which hopefully will one day be widely accessible and freely available to all those who are suffering!
Eich Ceiropractydd yng Nghlinig Ceiropracteg Llangefnii