The prevalence of chronic, impairing low back pain has risen significantly in North Carolina
Research Activities, July 2009, No. 347
More than 80 percent of the U.S. population will suffer from an episode of low back pain (LBP) at some time during their lives. Some will develop chronic LBP that lasts 3 months or longer. The incidence of chronic LBP more than doubled in North Carolina between 1992 and 2006, with continuing high levels of disability and health care use, according to a new study. These findings suggest that increases in population-based health care costs may be due to the growing prevalence of this condition more than increased care use by those afflicted, note the authors. They surveyed a representative sample of North Carolina households in 1992 (4,437 households) and 2006 (5,357 households) to identify adults 21 years or older with chronic LBP or neck pain that limited daily activities. The prevalence of chronic, impairing LBP rose significantly over the 14-year study period from 3.9 to 10.2 percent. Increases were seen for all ages, in men and women, and in white and black races. The severity of symptoms and general health of back pain sufferers were similar for both years.
In addition, the proportion of LBP sufferers who sought care from a health care provider in the previous year increased from 73.1 percent to 84 percent, while the mean number of visits to all health care providers was similar (19.5 in 1992 vs. 19.4 in 2006). When the researchers tried to assess whether back pain sufferers were simply labeling ongoing back symptoms as functionally impairing, they found that those with back pain in 2006 were functioning either similarly or worse than in 1992, with decreased employment, greater use of disability insurance, and continued high pain scores. Efforts to improve function and constrain costs of back pain will need to address issues of causality and self-management, conclude the researchers. Their study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00032).
More details are in "The rising prevalence of chronic low back pain," by Janet K. Freburger, P.T., Ph.D., George M. Holmes, Ph.D., Robert P. Agans, Ph.D., and others, in the February 9, 2009, Archives of Internal Medicine 169(3), pp. 251-258.