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Aching Back Sends More Than 3 Million to Emergency Departments

AHRQ News and Numbers, February 2, 2011

AHRQ News and Numbers provides statistical highlights on the use and cost of health services and health insurance in the United States.

Roughly 3.4 million emergency department visits—an average of 9,400 a day—were specifically for back problems at U.S. hospitals in 2008, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

In the same year, there were over 663,000 inpatient stays—a daily average of nearly 1,820—principally for back surgery or other back disorder treatments.

AHRQ also found that in 2008:

  • Adults ages 18 to 44 were the most likely to require emergency department care just for back pain (1,569 visits per 100,000 people) and seniors ages 65 to 84 were the least likely (1,084 visits per 100,000 people).
  • However, people ages 18 to 44 years were far less likely to be hospitalized while the rate of hospitalization principally for back pain was highest for seniors ages 65 to 84 (130 hospital stays per 100,000 people versus 607 per 100,000 people).
  • Men were less likely than women to need emergency department care or be hospitalized for back pain (1,005 visits and 209 admissions per 100,000 men versus 1,244 emergency visits and 225 admissions per 100,000 women).
  • The overall costs for inpatient stays principally for back problems was over $9.5 billion, making it the 9th most expensive condition treated in U.S. hospitals.

This AHRQ News and Numbers is based on data in Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Related to Back Problems, 2008. The report uses data from the agency's 2008 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample and 2008 data from its Nationwide Inpatient Sample. For information about these two AHRQ databases, go to

For other information, or to speak with an AHRQ data expert, please contact Bob Isquith at or call (301) 427-1539.

Page last reviewed February 2011
Internet Citation: Aching Back Sends More Than 3 Million to Emergency Departments: AHRQ News and Numbers, February 2, 2011. February 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.


The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.


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