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Back Pain Statistics and the Importance of Good Posture

Back pain often leads to disability. Learn how you can prevent and treat chronic pain with proper alignment.

Last Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Back Pain Statistics

Technological advancements have benefited millions of workers through a diminished need for physical labor, leading to fewer injuries on dangerous job sites. However, many office workers increasingly develop severe physical issues over time due to limited movement, poor posture, and muscle degeneration.

Back pain is among the most prevalent medical problems in the United States today, contributing to more work-loss days than any other chronic condition. Moreover, back pain is also a significant factor in America’s opioid epidemic, with doctors prescribing opioids to almost 14% of insured patients with back pain, despite an overall lack of evidence to support the drugs’ efficacy.¹

Developing and maintaining a healthy posture can reduce back pain by ensuring our joints are in proper alignment, reducing ligament stress, and preventing muscle fatigue, strain, and chronic pain.

Jump to:

The impacts of back pain
Causes of back pain
Treatment for back pain
Back pain prevention
Why is posture important?
What affects posture?
Tips on improving posture
References

The impacts of back pain

Back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide and a significant contributor to medical spending in the U.S.² It affects nearly 65 million Americans, contributing to the following facts and statistics:³

  • Over 16 million Americans experience chronic back pain.
  • Back pain contributes to approximately 83 million work-loss days.
  • Back pain is the sixth most costly medical condition in the U.S., with direct and indirect health care costs reaching over $12 billion annually.
  • Almost two-thirds of adult employees have missed at least one day of work due to illness or injury in the past year.
  • 25% of individuals with back pain report being in poor physical health.
  • 72% of adults with back pain report feelings of sadness, depression, and hopelessness.
  • 83% of American adults with back pain have seen a physician in the past year.
  • Back pain can limit social activities, further contributing to feelings of isolation and depression.
  • Back pain is the leading cause of work limitations among those aged between 18 and 64.
  • Annual earnings among those with back pain are substantially lower than those without the condition.

Causes of back pain

Many factors may contribute to back pain, including several common conditions, such as:⁴

Ligament or muscle strain

You can strain your muscles and ligaments through repeated heavy lifting or sudden unexpected movements, leading to back spasms. Individuals in poor physical condition are at higher risk for strain among back muscles and ligaments.

Ruptured or bulging disks

The soft material within the disks that cushion your vertebrae can dislocate, bulge, or rupture, causing pressure on your nerves and resulting in chronic pain.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become brittle and weak, leading to stress fractures in the spine and resulting in acute or chronic pain.

Arthritis

Arthritis causes tenderness, swelling, and stiffness in the joints, including those in the lower back. Spinal arthritis can cause stenosis, a narrowing in the space around the spinal cord.

Other significant risk factors for back pain include:

  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle and/or work environment
  • Cancer and other chronic diseases
  • Smoking
  • Psychological conditions, including depression and anxiety
  • Age
  • Kidney stones and infections
  • Blood clots
  • Bone loss

Treatment for back pain

Nonpharmacologic interventions are the first-line treatment options for lower back pain. These treatments involve:

  • Chiropractic adjustment
  • Massage
  • Heat
  • Acupuncture

In a 2018 study, researchers concluded that chiropractic patients with acute low back pain had 64% lower odds of receiving an opioid prescription, and just 1.5% of chiropractic patients required surgery.⁵ These patients also had 20% to 40% lower care costs than those receiving other treatment forms.

Back pain prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment, as they say, and this is particularly true of back pain. Current evidence suggests that exercise and education effectively prevent lower back pain, while other interventions, including shoe insoles and back belts, are less effective.⁶

The following tips may assist with back pain prevention and reduce your medical costs in the long term:

  • Properly stretch and warm up before workouts or physical activity.
  • Exercise daily. Just a thirty-minute walk each day can prevent chronic back pain as we age.
  • Eat a healthy and nutritious diet that’s rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Take breaks from sedentary work by stretching or walking periodically throughout the day.
  • Sleep on a medium-firm mattress for maximum spinal benefits.
  • Lift objects with your knees, not your back.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking contributes to nutrient and oxygen deprivation in spinal tissues.
  • Improve the ergonomics of your workstation with proper keyboard and screen positioning and comfortable seating.
  • Wear comfortable footwear and avoid high heels.
  • Avoid prolonged periods of staring down at your phone or screen, which can cause neck discomfort and contribute to chronic back pain.

Why is posture important?

Your muscles help you maintain a healthy posture, no matter your body position. If you’re standing, sitting, or lying down, your body’s position and movements can lead to alignment or misalignment.

When your body is exhibiting good posture, you have just the right amount of muscle tension to resist gravity and keep your body upright without feeling too rigid. If your posture is misaligned, you might experience muscle and joint pain, which could become permanent if you don’t practice proper alignment techniques.

Several muscle groups in the back and lower body control our posture in varying positions. Proper posture can contribute to:

  • Bone and joint alignment
  • Reduction of ligament stress and the wearing of joint surfaces
  • Efficiency of movement
  • Lower excess muscle tension and fatigue

What affects posture?

Several factors affect our posture, including habitual movement patterns that lead to excessive strain on our postural muscles and joints. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that staring downward at a cell phone or laptop screen can cause neck pain over time. Less apparent is how these strained positions lead to decreased flexibility and muscle strength, causing pain elsewhere in the body, such as in the lower back and lower limbs.

Some of the most common factors contributing to misalignment and poor posture include:⁷

  • Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Stress and tension
  • Ill-equipped work environments
  • Inactivity and lack of exercise
  • Habitual slouching
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weak flexibility
  • Scoliosis
  • Poor foot support

Tips on improving posture

When working to improve your posture, the assistance of a chiropractor or physical alignment specialist is ideal, as these professionals can objectively observe your movements and positioning and assist you in reducing your risk of injury and strain.

However, you can work on improving your posture alone with mindful awareness and an understanding of ergonomic movement strategies. The following tips can help you make the necessary adjustments at home, in the workplace, and while sleeping to reduce your risk of back pain.

Improving posture at your desk

Individuals who spend their workdays sitting at desks can experience neck and back pain because of limited movement and improper alignment. To achieve the best sitting posture, you should:

  • Place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, and squarely beneath you. If you’re shorter, you may require a footrest.
  • Ensure there is a small space between the seat and back of your knees.
  • Uncross your legs and keep your ankles beneath your knees.
  • Ensure that your desk chair is supporting your lower and mid-back.
  • Loosen your shoulders and neck muscles and keep your keyboard in a position where your forearms are squared with the floor.
  • Take frequent breaks to move around and stretch.

Improving posture when standing

Those who work in jobs requiring frequent standing or walking can also suffer back pain due to improper posture. And while we can’t often control the type of flooring in our work environments, we can adjust our alignment to reduce muscular and ligament stress. When standing, you should:

  • Place your feet squarely beneath your shoulders.
  • Unlock your knees, keeping them slightly bent.
  • Balance your weight equally on both feet. Do not lean forward on your toes.
  • Allow your arms to hang freely at your sides.
  • Relax your stomach and ensure it is not protruding forward.
  • Maintain your head alignment so that you are facing forward at eye level.
  • Imagine a beam of light through your body extending upward. Allow your spine to reach tall with the light.
  • If you are standing still for a long time, adjust your weight from one leg to the other, and from the balls of your feet to your toes.

Improving posture while lying down

We often don’t think of posture when sleeping, but the body position you tend to keep at night can also significantly impact your alignment in the day. When sleeping, you should:

  • Ensure you’re sleeping on the right mattress. You may want to consult with a professional to determine what level of firmness is best for you and your normal sleeping position. Spinal specialists typically recommend firmer mattresses, but everyone is unique.
  • Sleeping on your back or side is best for proper alignment. Side-sleepers should keep a pillow between their knees, while those who sleep on their back should place a pillow beneath their knees.
  • Find pillows that suit your sleeping position and allow you to sleep with your neck relaxed and your head aligned with your body.

References

[1] Acute low back pain (2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved on September 4, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/acute-pain/low-back-pain/index.html.

[2] Hoy D, March L, Brooks P, et al. (2014). The global burden of low back pain: Estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. Retrieved on September 4, 2022, from https://ard.bmj.com/content/73/6/968.

[3] Chronic back pain (2022). Georgetown University, McCourt School of Public Policy, Health Policy Institute. Retrieved on September 4, 2022, from https://hpi.georgetown.edu/backpain/.

[4] Back pain (2022). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on September 5, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906#.

[5] Cherkin, D. (May 18, 2018). Innovating to improve care for low back pain in the military. JAMA Network Open. Retrieved on September 6, 2022, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2680415.

[6] Steffens, D., et al. (February, 2016). Prevention of low back pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved on September 7, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26752509/.

[7] Getting it straight (2017, August). National Institutes of Health: News in Health. Retrieved on September 13, 2022, from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/08/getting-it-straight#.