The headline “How back pain took over the world” caught my attention as I was glancing over back related news. In the October issue of The Atlantic, Olga Khazan writes about how Neck & Low Back Pain (N&LBP) has become the second biggest cause of DALY’s (Disability Adjusted Life Years). DALY’s is a measure of disease burden. This is expressed as the number of years lost due to illness, disability or early death. The higher the number is meant to imply life years not living at your best.


Image by Planemad [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Global Burden of Disease Study recently published in Lancet tracks the prevalence of death & disease worldwide. In rich countries, the most common cause of DALY is heart disease. Surprisingly, N&LBP is second. In most countries, Neck & LBP is the leading cause of disability.

back painThe good news is that on average, people are living 10 years longer compared to 1980. The only issue, we are more likely to be living with some sort of pain.

Theo Vos, author of the Global Burden Study feels that two reasons are responsible for the increasing burden of Neck & LBP. The first is that modern medicine is much better at treating life threatening diseases (measles, malaria etc.). The second reason is the population is aging. Increasing age is associated with increased Neck & LBP. The Lancet study also looked at the countries who suffer most from LBP and found a correlation with aging countries: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Australia, US & Japan.

What You Can Do About Back Pain and Neck Pain

As a spine surgeon, I counsel all my patients that Neck & LBP is common and frequently controllable. Age related spine changes can occur as early as the teen years and learning to live with occasional neck & low back pain is normal. The importance of proper back lifting technique, reliance on Core exercises and staying active can help minimize the effect.

Other risk factors for Neck & LBP include:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Heavy physical work
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Depression
  • Work dissatisfaction

Some of these risk factors are not easily preventable. Psychosocial issues (Depression & Work satisfaction) are clearly involved in many patients with chronic neck and back pain; this relationship is not well understood.

Ultimately, staying active and healthy with a positive attitude will help with most cases of Neck & LBP. Thankfully, most instances of pain resolve with time and conservative measures. Surgery is always a last option.

-Dr. Paul Saiz
Las Cruces

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