Chronic Low Back Pain Is on the Rise
Feb. 11 -- TUESDAY, Feb. 10 (HealthDay News) -- A North Carolina study finds that the rate of chronic low back pain has more than doubled in that state since the early 1990s -- a statistic the authors say might reflect what's happening in the country as a whole.
"We were actually surprised by what we found," said Dr. Timothy S. Carey, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina and the study's lead author.
He said his team knew that expenditures for medical services aimed at easing back pain have increased over the years. One theory for that rise has been that back pain sufferers are simply seeking more services.
But the researchers found another cause.
"A major reason for the increase in cost for back pain is not just that people are seeking a lot of care, but that there is a lot of back pain out there," Carey said. "We may need to rethink our way of dealing with this problem."
According to the study, 3.9 percent of North Carolina residents surveyed in 1992 said that they had debilitating, chronic back pain. That number rose to 10.2 percent by 2006, the researchers said.
Among people reporting ongoing, serious low back pain in 1992, about 73 percent said they had seen a physician, physical therapist or chiropractor at least once during the past year. In 2006, 84 percent said they had done so. However, the average number of health care visits remained the same, at just 19 a year.
The fraction of people with back pain who had ever had back surgery increased only slightly, from 22.3 percent in 1992 to 24.8 percent in 2006.
The findings were published in the Feb. 9 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
The methodology of the study didn't enable researchers to ascertain the reasons for the increase in chronic lower back problems, but there are several possibilities, Carey said. One is the increase in obesity. Another is an increase in the prevalence of depression, which has been linked to back pain. Carey said that it's unclear whether back pain causes depression or whether people with pre-existing depression are more likely to develop depression.
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