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Low Back Pain Leading Cause of Disability: Study

Nearly 10 percent of people are affected, researchers find

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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.

"For nonspecific low back pain -- which explains the majority of back pain -- evidence-based management involves reassurance about the favorable prognosis, advice to continue usual activities and stay active, and the prescribing of simple analgesics [painkillers] as needed," Buchbinder said

Both she and Cohen said surgery isn't often necessary.

"With aging and growing populations, low back pain is an enormous burden in developing countries," lead author Hoy said. "This is predicted to grow substantially over coming decades and will likely have an enormous impact on individual livelihoods, health care systems and economies."

Both studies were published online on March 24 in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

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