27/05/2014 Gavin

How common is lower back pain?

It’s very common.  Here are the facts…

  • It affects 80% of people at some time in their lives
  • At any given time around a billion people are suffering lower back pain
  • It costs UK industry an estimated £3.4billion each year
  • The single biggest predictor of future lower back pain is a past episode of lower back pain
  • £141million is spent on GP consultations per year
  • Back pain is the number 2 reason for long term sickness (stress is number 1)
  • In many countries it’s the second most common reason for doctor visits

And finally…

Why is lower back pain so common?

Essentially it’s because as bipeds (we walk on two feet rather than four), the forces on the lower back are different – and much greater.  Compression on discs and joints causes them to wear out faster, and muscles have to hold us up against gravity resulting in fatigue and strain.

Other species clearly suffer back problems too, but not as frequently as humans – it seems to be an evolutionary weak point.  There are other risk factors for back pain (smoking, obesity, prolonged postures, heavy lifting), but these don’t explain why it’s so much more common in humans.

Should you walk on all fours?

Nope.  Although we’re not perfectly evolved to be upright, we’re certainly not fit for going around on all fours for very long.  Although if, as a baby, you didn’t try to stand up, but instead stayed on all fours, it would be interesting to see whether your muscles and skeleton adapted to these forces.

How to avoid lower back pain?

My view is that we should make the most of what we’ve got.  Don’t take it for granted.  Although your spine has flaws, it’s also incredibly robust; considering the forces exerted on some spines, I’m often amazed backs don’t give out much earlier in life.  I have huge concerns about kids use of mobile phones and the risk of long term back problems; I think kids are storing up massive problems for their backs in future.   If you’ve read much of what I’ve written, you’ll know I’m into “Use it or lose it, but don’t abuse it.”

If you’re concerned about your own back, don’t hesitate to give me a ring, or email me

[email protected]



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