By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
Nearly 3 out of 10 US adults – 72.3 million people – currently suffer from chronic low back pain, surpassing the number of Americans who have arthritis, diabetes or heart disease, according to a large new Harris Poll. Over a third of those surveyed (36%) rate their back pain as “severe” or the “worst pain possible” and nearly half (44%) said they’ve experienced back pain for at least five years.
Over 5,000 adults participated in the online survey, which was sponsored by Vertos Medical, a company that makes medical devices to treat lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS).
One of the major findings in the survey is that over a third (37%) of adults with chronic low back pain (CLBP) have never been told by a healthcare professional what causes their pain. The vast majority (84%) say they wish there were better treatment options for CLBP.
“These survey results demonstrate that people with chronic low back pain are suffering greatly over long periods of time, and many have resigned themselves to live in a debilitated state,” Kathy Steinberg, Vice President of Media and Communications Research at The Harris Poll, said in a statement. “The fact that more than a third are not being told what is causing their pain, such as LSS or an enlarged ligament, makes it more difficult to treat that pain.”
Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability, affecting about 540 million people worldwide. With so many people suffering, you’d think there would be a consensus on the best way to treat CLBP. But a 2018 review by The Lancet found that low back pain is usually treated with bad advice, inappropriate tests, risky surgeries and painkillers — often against treatment guidelines.
The Harris Poll found that many Americans with CLBP are being treated with ineffective therapies, resulting in multiple visits to multiple doctors. On average, the typical back pain sufferer has sought relief from at least three healthcare providers, with an average of 4 office visits in the last year.
Over one in five (21%) have had epidural steroid injections (ESIs), with 37% having 5 or more injections. ESI’s not FDA-approved and the agency has warned that injections into the epiural space can result in rare but serious neurological problems, including loss of vision, stroke and paralysis. ESI’s were rated as one of the least effective treatments for CLBP in the Harris Poll.
Nearly a third of those surveyed (30%) said they have been prescribed opioids and 15% said they are currently taking them, even though medical guidelines caution that opioids are not appropriate for CLBP.
Opioids may not be recommended, but nearly 8 out of 10 (79%) said the medications were very or somewhat effective, making opioids the highest rated treatment for CLBP, slightly ahead of “conservative or eastern medicine” treatments such as physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture.