February 11, 2009
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Researchers find trend for increased chronic low back pain alarming

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Investigators at the University of North Carolina found the incidence of chronic low back pain (LBP) among North Carolina residents increased more than 5% from 1992 to 2006, doubling the group’s incidence of this debilitating condition in 14 years.

Exactly why chronic LBP increased in this population remains unclear, but researchers suggested in a press release that it may be due to obesity, depression or increased awareness of the condition.

“Considering the social and economic costs of chronic low back pain, these findings are alarming,” principal investigator Timothy S. Carey, MD, said in the press release. He is director of the Sheps Center and Sarah Graham Kenan Professor in the departments of medicine and social medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

The cross-sectional study, published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, compared results of a telephone survey of individuals aged 21 years or older in about 4,400 households in 1992 to results of the same survey conducted in about 5,300 households in 2006. Survey questions focused on issues related to chronic LBP, including impairment and medical care received.

According to the surveys’ results, the 3.9% chronic LBP rate seen in 1992 increased to 10.2% in 2006; 95% confidence intervals were 3.4%-4.4% and 9.3%-11.0% for the 1992 and 2006 surveys, respectively. The surveys used the same chronic LBP definition and similar questions.

Diverse groups, including men and women of all ages and of white or black races, suffered equally from the effects of LBP, according to the findings.

Carey and colleagues also found this area was not widely studied and suspect a similar trend may be occurring in many other states.

“Since the costs of back pain are rising, along with the number of cases, current treatments do not seem to be very effective,” Carey said in the press release.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases funded the study.

Reference:

  • Freburger JK, Holmes GM, Agans RP, et al. The rising prevalence of chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(3):251-258.