The Growing Costs of Back Pain

A new study shows more people are suffering from back pain, and spending more to treat it along the way.

Back pain is the second most common reason for adults to visit the doctor, behind upper respiratory infections. In recent years, both the prevalence and expenditures relating to back pain have significantly increased in the United States.

As the population of baby boomers ages, the health-care industry is expected to be impacted in a variety of ways. A recent study analyzed data from a questionnaire conducted between the years 2000 and 2007 to evaluate the effect of an aging population on medical expenditures related to chronic back pain.

Using data from 71,838 respondents, the researchers identified 12,104 respondents who reported back pain - of which 3,842 were identified as chronic cases. Over the seven-year course of the longitudinal study, trends indicate that the prevalence of back pain increased 29% over the time period, while chronic back pain increased by 64%. The average age of study participants with back pain increased from 45.9 to 48.2 years.

Overall, 94% of patients with chronic back pain use health-care services, while 75% of those with non-chronic back pain sought services. Older people with back pain, as well as those with chronic back pain, were more likely to seek treatment. Expenditures on medical services for chronic back pain increased by 129% during the same period - from $15.6 billion in 2000-2001, to $35.7 billion in 2006-2007.

The researchers concluded that the prevalence of chronic back pain is increasing, along with the medical costs associated with treating such conditions. Because the growth of chronic back pain is partially caused by an aging population, this growth is projected to continue in the coming years.

The relatively high per-patient cost of treating chronic back pain has important implications for health-care policy, clinical practice, and research efforts. In an effort to improve patient outcomes and lower the cost of treating chronic back pain, therapeutic approaches such as multidisciplinary rehabilitation, exercise, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and spinal manipulation are becoming increasingly common for treating lower back pain.


Smith M, Davis MA, Stano M, Whedon JM. Aging baby boomers and the rising cost of chronic back pain: Secular trend analysis of longitudinal medical expenditures panel survey data for years 2000 to 2007. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2013; 36 (1): 2-11.