Back Pain: Facts and Figures


Key facts of back pain

Back pain is very common; according to a survey published in 2000 almost half the adult population of the UK (49%) report low back pain lasting for at least 24 hours at some time in the year. (1)

It is estimated that four out of every five adults (80%) will experience back pain at some stage in their life. (1)

Although in most cases back pain is nothing serious and disappears spontaneously, the sheer number of people affected makes it a very costly condition imposing a considerable burden on the individual and society.

Simple measures can be taken to reduce the chances of developing back pain and thereby reducing the impact of existing back pain. Contact one of our practitioners to find out more.


Number of people with back pain

In industrialised countries, up to 80% of the population will experience back pain at some stage in their life. During any one year, up to half of the adult population (15%-49%) will have back pain. (13)

The number of people with back pain increases with advancing age, starting in school children and peaking in adults of 35 to 55 years of age. Back pain is just as common in adolescents as in adults. (3)


Causes of back pain

In most cases it is very difficult to identify a single cause for back pain. In about 85% of back pain sufferers no clear pathology can be identified. (4)

The following factors could contribute to back pain:

  • Having had back pain in the past, smoking and obesity. (3)
  • Physical factors such as heavy physical work, frequent bending, twisting, lifting, pulling and pushing, repetitive work, static postures and vibrations. (5)
  • Psychosocial factors such as stress, anxiety, depression, job satisfaction, mental stress. (36)


Recovery from back pain

Back pain is, in most cases, a self-limiting condition and 90% of people with acute back pain will recover within 6 weeks. (4)

Up to 7% of people with acute back pain will develop chronic back pain. These chronic patients have considerable discomfort and account for approximately 80% of the social and health care costs. (4)


The costs of back pain

The National Health Service spends more than £1 billion per year on back pain related costs, this includes:

  • £512 million on hospital costs for back pain patients.
  • £141 million on GP consultations for back pain.
  • £150.6 million on physiotherapy treatments for back pain. (2)

In the private healthcare sector £565 million is spent on back pain every year. (2)

This brings the healthcare costs for back pain to a total of £1.6 billion per year. (2)

In addition there are other (indirect) costs. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that musculoskeletal disorders, which include back pain cost UK employers between £590 million and £624 million per year. (8)

The total cost of back pain corresponds to between 1% and 2% of gross national product (GDP). (9)

Other European countries report similar high costs; back pain related costs in The Netherlands in 1991 were more than 4 billion euro. For Sweden in 1995 these were more than 2 billion euro. (10)


The impact of back pain on the individual

Back pain, in particular persistent back pain (i.e. <3 months), can have a significant impact on people’s lives. It frequently reduces their quality of life and adversely affects their family and social relationships. (7)


The impact of back pain on work and sick leave

Nearly 5 million working days were lost as a result of back pain in 2003-04. This means that on any one day 1% of the working population are on sickness leave due to a back problem. (11)

Back pain is the number 2 reason for long term sickness in much of the UK. In manual labour jobs, back pain is the number one reason. (12)


The treatment of back pain

Nearly 40% of back pain sufferers consulted a GP for help; 10% visited a practitioner of complementary medicine (osteopathy, chiropractor and acupuncture). (13)

When experiencing back pain it is very important to stay active. Bed rest will only make the pain worse. (1415)

Physical exercise can be a very effective method to reduce the pain and discomfort that long-term pain sufferers experience. (15)

Contact one of our practitioners for treatment advice and self-help information.




  1. Palmer KT, Walsh K, et al. Back pain in Britain: comparison of two prevalence surveys at an interval of 10 years BMJ 2000;320:1577-1578.
  2. Maniadakis A, Gray A. The economic burden of back pain in the UK. Pain 2000;84:95-103
  3. Burton AK, Balague F, et al. European guidelines for prevention in low back pain. Eur Spine J 2006:15(suppl 2):S136- S168
  4. Nachemson AL, Waddell G, Norlund AI. Epidemiology of neck and low back pain. In: Nachemson AL & Jonsson E (eds). Neck and back pain: The scientific evidence of causes, diagnosis and treatment. Philadelphia: Lippencott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
  5. Andersson GBJ. The epidemiology of spinal disorders. In: Frymoyer JW (eds) The adult spine: Principles and practice.
    Philadelphia: Liipincott-Raven, 1997.
  6. Hoogendoorn WE, van Poppel MNM, et al. Systematic review of psychosocial factors at work and in private life as risk factors for back pain. Spine 2000;25:2114-2125.
  7. Pain in Europe; A 2003 report. (
  8. The costs of accidents at work, HS(G)96 2nd Edition, HMSO 1997
  9. Norlund AI & Waddell G. Cost of back pain in some OECD countries. In: Nachemson AL, Jonsson E (eds).
    Neck and back pain: The scientific evidence of causes, diagnosis and treatment. Philadelphia: Lippencott, Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
  10. Van Tulder M. Chapter 1: Introduction. Eur Spine J 2006;15(suppl 2):S134-S135.
  11. Back Health at Work. HSE 2005
  12. Department for Work and Pensions, 2002.
  13. Department of Health Statistics Division. The prevalence of back pain in Great Britain in 1998. London: Government Statistical Service, 1999
  14. Van Tulder M, Becker A, et al. European guidelines for the management of acute non-specific low back pain in primary care. Eur Spine J 2006;15(suppl 2):S169-S191.
  15. Airaksinen O, Brox JI, et al. European guidelines for the management of chronic non-specific low back pain.
    Eur Spine J 2006;15(suppl2):S192-S30

With thanks to for the above Back Pain Facts and Figures.