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Dissecting The Facts About Lower Back Pain

June 30, 2016

Musculoskeletal diseases affect more than one out of every two persons in the United States age 18 and over, and nearly three out of four age 65 and over. Trauma, back pain, and arthritis are the three most common musculoskeletal conditions reported, and for which health care visits to physicians’ offices, emergency departments, and hospitals occur each year. The rate of musculoskeletal diseases far outstrips that of heart diseases and respiratory diseases, which affect about one in three persons, with the majority reporting relatively easily treatable conditions such as chronic hypertension or hay fever and bronchitis.


The cost of treating major musculoskeletal diseases, which often includes long-term pain and disability, is also greater than for treatment of many other common health conditions. Yet research dollars to identify causes, create new treatments, and reduce pain and disability remain much lower than that of other health conditions.

ratio of elderly

With the aging of the US population, musculoskeletal diseases are becoming a greater burden every year. The pages of this site illustrate the magnitude of musculoskeletal diseases on the US population, and provide a small slice of the cost and impact on the US economy.

Lumbar/low back pain and cervical/neck pain are among the most common medical conditions requiring medical care and affecting an individual’s ability to work and manage the daily activities of life. Back pain is the most common physical condition for which patients visit their doctor. In any given year, between 12% and 14.0% of the United States’ adult population (above 18 years of age) will visit their physician with complaints of back pain. Of the 140 million patients with pain last year alone only 40 million had a visit with a physical therapist, who are the musculoskeletal experts in the healthcare system.  The number of physician visits has increased steadily over the years. In 2012, more than 52.3 million patients visited a physician with a complaint of back pain, compared to 44.6 million in 2004.1


A large annual health care survey is conducted in the United States by the National Center for Health Statistics for the purpose of identifying the incidence and prevalence of select health conditions. Pain from any muscle, joint, or bone (musculoskeletal pain) was reported by 52.1% of persons aged 18 years and older in 2012. Low back pain was the most common, affecting 28.6%; neck pain was the third most common at 15.2%. (Knee pain was second at 18.1%.) The prevalence of back pain has remained stable since 2005, and is measured in response to the question of whether the individual “had low back pain or neck pain during the past three months.” Females report musculoskeletal pain more frequently than males (54.6% vs. 49.5%). The prevalence of low back pain and neck pain is highest for persons age 45 to 64 years, while overall, joint paint is highest among persons age 65 years and older, where 7 in 10 report joint pain.

About 1 in 13 persons (7.5%) in the population age 18 or older report they have a physical, mental, or emotional problem or illness that precludes work. Among these persons, 27%, or nearly 4 of the 13, are unable to work due to chronic back or neck problems. Another 1 out of 25 persons is limited in the type and duration of work they can do because of back and neck pain. Three in four persons with pain in multiple areas of the back and neck report work limitations. The estimated annual direct medical cost for all back related conditions was $253 billion in 2012.

Back pain often originates from sources that are not readily identifiable. Many causes of back pain are likely related to degeneration, but the actual underlying cause of a given back pain episode is often uncertain or not identified. The reason that the source of back pain is not being identified properly is because the people they are seeing first which includes primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, medical assistants, physician’s assistants have no formal musculoskeletal training.  They don’t have training in graduate school as it relates to the movement system.  Now why in the world would we be seeing them when we have pain with motion?

These statistics are absolutely depressing.  It simply proves that the way we have been doing things are not good enough.  We must change the way we do things.  We must get movement screens on a consistent basis, we must be treated by musculoskeletal experts faster, and we must see experts who get results and have research to back up their results.

For more information on lower back pain check out our next lower back pain and sciatica workshop by clicking here


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