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Low Back Pain Leading Cause of Disability: Study

Nearly 10 percent of people are affected, researchers find


In Western Europe, the average prevalence of back pain was 15 percent, and in the North Africa/Middle East region, it was 14.8 percent. The lowest rates were found in the Caribbean, where the prevalence rate was 6.5 percent, and in Central Latin America, where it was 6.6 percent, Hoy reported. Low back pain prevalence was 7.7 percent in high-income areas of North America.

Higher levels of exercise, shorter height, higher pain thresholds, and less access to health insurance may be reasons why developing countries reported slightly lower rates of low back pain, Hoy suggested.

The second study -- done by researchers in Australia and the United States -- looked at data from 187 countries from 1990 and 2010. Just over one-third of all work-related disability was related to low back pain, the study found.

The risk of low back pain was nearly four times higher for people working in agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, fishing and hunting compared to other professions, reported a team led by Dr. Tim Driscoll of the University of Sydney, in Australia.

People working in production, laborers and transport equipment operators had a 54 percent higher risk of low back pain, while service workers had a 47 percent increased risk, according to the study. Clerical work was associated with the lowest rates of low back pain.

Staying in shape is one of the best ways to prevent back pain, according to U.S. expert Cohen. "The average young adult may be athletic and in pretty good shape," he said. "Once you get into your job life, you may not keep up your normal fitness level and combine that with aging and then exercising a lot on the weekends, and you end up with a situation that's not good for your back," he explained.

He said it's important to maintain core strength and flexibility to keep your back healthy.

For people who already have low back pain, Dr. Rachelle Buchbinder, a co-author on Hoy's study and a professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Monash University in Australia, had suggestions for their doctors.

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