Pain, discomfort, sick leave and an economic burden.
Back pain is very common
Low back pain is a major health and socio-economic problem throughout Europe. The lifetime prevalence has been estimated at anything between 59% to 90%(1). In any one year, the incidence of back pain is reported to be ~5% of the population1.
The Bone and Joint Decade Report, (2005) states that, “Most episodes of low back pain settle after a couple of weeks but many have a recurrent course with further acute episodes affecting 20-44% of patients within one year in the working population and lifetime recurrences of up to 85%.”(2)
Back pain is a common problem at work
A third of EU workers consider themselves at risk from back ache in the work place. A number of industries such as agriculture and construction are perceived to carry higher risk:
Figure 1 Workers considering themselves at risk of backache
Such risk perceptions appear well founded in that incidence of back ache at work is high and is the most frequent problem:
The last available EU-wide survey from ten years ago, found that the most common work-related health problem was back pain affecting 30% of workers( 3).
A more recent survey in Spain found that the most important work-related physical problems derive from maintaining the same posture and carrying out repetitive tasks. The outcome leads to lower back pain (40.9% of all workers), neck pain (40%) and upper back pain (22.9%)(4).
Back pain costs society
Back pain is the second leading cause of sick leave. In the UK, 12.5% of all sick days were found to be related to low back disorders. Figures for Sweden are similar with an estimated 13.5% of sick days said to be the result of lower back problems (Andersson, 1999(5)). The economic cost of back pain to society in the Netherlands has been estimated to be 1.7% of the gross national product (Van Tulder et al., 1995(6)).
(1) Dr. Veerle Hermans, 2000, “Research on work-related low back disorders,” Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Brussels
(2) The Bone and Joint Decade Report, 2005, European Action Towards Better Musculoskeletal Health, European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR), European Federation of National Associations of Orthopaedics and Traumatology (EFORT) & International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF)
(3) European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 1996, survey of a representative sample of 1000 workers in each MemberState, or 15,800 persons in total.
(4) Fifth National Survey on Working Conditions (V Encuesta Nacional de Condiciones de Trabajo), October 2004, INSHT, the Spanish National Institute of Safety and Hygiene in the Workplace (Instituto Nacional de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo)
(5) Andersson GBJ. Epidemiological features of chronic low-back pain. The Lancet 1999; 354: 581-585.
(6) Van Tulder MW, Koes BW, Bouter LM. A cost-illness study of back pain in the Netherlands. Pain 1995 ; 62 : 233-240.
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