Global Burden of Low Back Pain Expected to Reach Over 800 Million Cases by 2050
According to the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2021 report, the number of low back pain cases is projected to exceed 800 million by 2050, representing a 36% increase from 2020. This surge is attributed to population growth, an aging population, and a lack of systematic strategies for treating low back pain and limited treatment options.
Long-term analysis of over three decades of data reveals a steady rise in low back pain cases, with modeling predicting that by 2050, approximately 843 million people worldwide will be affected by this condition. This upward trend raises concerns about a potential healthcare crisis since low back pain is currently the leading cause of disability globally.
Australia is anticipated to experience a nearly 50% increase in low back pain cases by 2050, while Asia and Africa are expected to face the most significant spikes in numbers.
Lead author Professor Manuela Ferreira from Sydney Musculoskeletal Health emphasized the need for a national and consistent approach to managing low back pain based on research. Currently, the response to back pain is primarily reactive, but Professor Ferreira believes Australia, as a leader in back pain research, can take a proactive role in preventing and managing this condition.
The GBD report highlights several key findings, including the fact that low back pain affects a larger proportion of elderly individuals rather than working-age individuals. It also notes that back pain cases surpassed half a billion in 2020, with occupational factors, smoking, and obesity contributing to one-third of the disability burden associated with this condition.
Senior author Professor Lyn March from Sydney Musculoskeletal Health and the Kolling Institute emphasized the need for more population-based data on back pain and musculoskeletal conditions from low to middle-income countries to better interpret and address the results.
The study analyzed GBD data from 1990 to 2020 across 204 countries and territories, providing a comprehensive understanding of back pain mortality and disability patterns. It also serves as the first study to predict future prevalence of low back pain cases.
To address this growing burden, health systems must respond effectively and provide timely access to treatment options. Dr. Alarcos Cieza from the World Health Organization stressed the importance of recognizing and addressing musculoskeletal conditions, including low back pain, due to their significant social and economic consequences.
The researchers made recommendations, particularly focusing on exercise and education, and called for global policies that promote prevention and management strategies for low back pain.
Failure to address low back pain appropriately can lead to chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental health disorders, invasive medical procedures, and significant impairment. Given the impact of low back pain on healthy aging, it is crucial to update clinical guidelines to support healthcare professionals in managing this condition, particularly for older individuals.
The study, titled “Global, regional, and national burden of low back pain, 1990–2020, its attributable risk factors, and projections to 2050: a systematic analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021,” was published in The Lancet Rheumatology.
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