Worldwide, the number of people suffering from back pain is on the increase with a study predicting the cases to spike to more than 840 million by 2050, a 36 per cent rise from 2020 largely due to population increase and the ageing of people, according to a study. Published in the Lancet Rheumatology journal, the study reveals that the largest surge in back pain cases will occur in Asia and Africa. But what is more worrisome is the lack of consistent treatment approaches and limited options available, which could result in a healthcare crisis. Low back pain is currently the leading cause of disability globally.

The researchers analysed Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data from 1990 to 2020 from over 204 countries and territories to map the landscape of back pain cases over time.  The GBD is the most comprehensive picture of mortality and disability across countries, time, and age.

“Our analysis paints a picture of growing low back pain cases globally, putting enormous pressure on our healthcare system,” said study lead author, Professor Manuela Ferreira from the University of Sydney in Australia.

“We need to establish a national, consistent approach to managing low back pain that is informed by research,” Ferreira said in a statement.

The study found that since 2017, the number of low back pain cases has ticked over to more than half a billion people. In 2020, there were approximately 619 million cases of back pain.

 At least one third of the disability burden associated with back pain was attributable to occupational factors, smoking and being overweight. A widespread misconception is that low back pain mostly affects adults of working age.

Dr Rajkumar, Senior Consultant- Internal Medicine, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, who is  not connected with the study, however advises to keep a watch on Asthma also as it has connection with back pain too. “We are finding with empirical evidence that there is a significant link between back pain and asthma, though these two conditions might seem unrelated at first glance. Firstly, asthma can affect a person’s posture and breathing patterns, which can lead to muscle imbalances and tension in the back muscles.

“This can cause discomfort and pain in the upper, middle, or lower back. Additionally, some asthma medications can cause bone loss and increase the risk of osteoporosis, which can also lead to back pain. “Moreover, back pain can worsen asthma symptoms by making it difficult to breathe properly. This can cause anxiety and panic, which can trigger an asthma attack. Furthermore, the stress associated with chronic back pain can also exacerbate asthma symptoms. Inflammation is yet another connection between back pain and asthma. Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways, while back pain can be caused by inflammation in the muscles, ligaments, and bones in the back.

Hence, both awareness and attention are required to manage symptoms of back pain and asthma effectively with timely medical interventions. Treatments include medications and lifestyle modifications such as exercise, weight management, and stress reduction techniques, according to Dr Rajkumar.

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