Chronic Back Pain in United States Compared to United Kingdom

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Backache is major issue in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA) and it’s thought to be one of the most common causes of work absence. Both men and women suffer from back pain across all age ranges with at least 80% of people experiencing back pain at some point in their life. Reports indicate that our increasingly inactive lifestyles are to blame for the high proportion of reported back/spinal pain.
man in slouching position kneeling on ergonomic chair working with computer at desk.

USA Survey Results

In the ‘Chronic Back Pain in America’ survey, many people were asked about their experiences with back pain and the severity likewise. The survey split the spine into three areas for feedback. These were the neck area, the mid-back, and the lower back/lumbar region.

Strong pain was reported in at least 20% of all respondents, with neck pain and mid-back pain reaching 22%. Intense, dominating pain was also high. 16% of respondents reported intense dominating pain in the neck, 20% in the mid-back, and 17% in the lower back.

A further question asked whether patients took prescribed medication to help with symptoms. Of all respondents, 70% took medications for neck pain, 80% for mid-back pain and 76% for lower back pain indicating the great discomfort back pain has on daily life.

UK Statistics

Statistics for those in the UK also indicate that although sickness rates are down as a whole, the amount of working days lost to musculoskeletal (MSK) problems have increased. The Office of National Statistics reported that 31 million working days were lost to MSK absence, an equivalent to a £1 billion (~$1,538,330,000) in lost income.

The UK has one of the highest rates in Europe with an increase in the number of sick days since 2013.

Ages Groups

Anyone can suffer with back pain, but the over 50s age range are most affected in the UK possibly due to weakening spinal skeletal tissue. In 2014, 4.2 million working days were lost by the over 50s to back pain alone. The 35-49 age bracket were next worst affected with the 25-34s having the least amount of problems, although these still amounted to 1.89 million lost days.

Causes of Back Pain

Many experts believe that our increasingly sedentary lifestyle is the reason for the increase in back related pain. It is estimated that Brits spend on average four hours a day sat in front of a computer.

Sitting puts up to twice as much pressure on the lumbar spine as standing does. A rise in the use of computer related activity has led to a decrease in physical activity and a rise in not only back pain, but obesity and heart disease too.

Other causes of back pain include:

  • Strain and Sprain: Injuries caused by lifting too heavy an object or by overstretching.
  • Sciatica: Compression of the sciatic nerve leading to back pain which often runs into the buttocks and legs.
  • Osteoporosis: A bone disease, which leads to a decrease in bone strength. It can lead to injury or fractures in the spine.
  • Fibromyalgia: A condition whereby the sufferer experiences muscle pain and tiredness, although the exact cause is not yet known.

Back Pain Can Cause Other Illness

  • Depression: People who suffer from back pain may find they are unable to work or continue with hobbies. This can lead to a drastic change in financial and social circumstances leading to misery and depression.
  • Sex Life: Back/spinal pain can affect a person’s sex life also with around 47% of those asked in the survey stating it affected their ‘sexual enjoyment’. Certain studies have also showed that men with damage to certain nerves in the spine may even sometimes experience impotence.
  • Sleeping Difficulties: When back pain is not managed effectively, sleep quality is often affected drastically. The survey confirmed this fact as 80% of those involved reported that they had ‘disrupted or poor sleep’.
Updated on: 07/24/18
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Waking Up with Back Pain?
Stewart G. Eidelson, MD
SpineUniverse Founder, Orthopaedic Surgeon
Southpalm Ortho-Spine Institute
Boca Raton, FL
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