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1 in 6 Australians have chronic back problems

16 August, 2016

An estimated 3.7 million Australians had chronic back problems in 2014–15, according to a report released 16 August 2016 by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Impacts of chronic back problems, explains the impact on an individual's quality of life, as well as the impact on the community in terms of economic and disease burden.

Chronic back problems are defined as long-term (6 months or more) health conditions and include disc disorders (such as a herniated disc or disc degeneration); sciatica and curvature of the spine; and pain not caused by another condition such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis.

People with chronic back problems are more likely to report a poorer quality of life than those in the general population, with similar rates for men and women.

'People with back problems are around 2 times as likely to say they have poor health, high levels of psychological distress and severe bodily pain, compared with the general population,' said AIHW spokesperson Ann Hunt.

In 2014–15, around 9% of people with back problems perceived their health as poor, compared to just over 4% in the general population.

'Almost 7% experienced very high levels of psychological distress, and 4% experienced very severe bodily pain. This is compared with 4% and 1.5%, respectively, in the general population,' Hunt said.

The report also shows that 28% of people with a disability (around 1.2 million people) also had a chronic back problem.

'Among people with a disability, those suffering from chronic back problems were more likely than those without to report limitations and restrictions in relation to mobility, self-care, employment and social participation,' Hunt said.

'Among people with both a disability and a chronic back problem, 43% experienced limitations related to mobility, 28% experienced limitations related to self-care, and 77% of those who were working age experienced a restriction in employment.'

Chronic back problems were the third leading cause of disease burden in Australia in 2011, accounting for 3.6% of the total burden across all diseases and injuries. The majority (78%) of people with chronic back problems are aged between 15–64.

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