Lower Back Pain A Growing Problem For America’s Increasingly Sedentary Workers

Lower back pain is on the rise in the U.S., a fact that may remind readers of a recent report by ABC News that American workers work longer days, “take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later” than their counterparts in other industrialized countries. With an increasing number of jobs involving sitting at a desk or workstation for hours at a time, chiropractors and health practitioners are seeing a startling rise in cases of back pain among all age groups.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, pain in the lower back is leading cause of disability around the world, and an estimated “31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time.” Back pain is also reported to be the second leading cause of doctor visits every year, trailing only upper-respiratory infections.

Factors Contributing To Higher Prevalence Of Low Back Pain

A number of factors are thought to be causing the lower back pain epidemic in America. A recent study by researchers at Northwestern University and reported on by Medical News Today suggests that smoking increases certain types of brain activity that make individuals less resilient to lower back pain.

“The researchers found that compared with nonsmoking participants, those who smoked had a stronger connection between the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex, increasing their risk of chronic back pain. The team calculated that smokers are three times more likely to develop chronic back pain than nonsmokers.”

Others speculate that the growth of the tech industry is playing a role, as legions of young office workers spending countless hours hunched over computers and other electronic devices are experience back problems at an alarming rate. A recent post by a chiropractic group based in the tech hotbed of San Francisco suggests that the modern office environment is largely to blame for the increases in musculoskeletal pain among today’s office workers.

“…the average age of our new patients is a bit startling. Young office workers still in their 20s arrive at our office complaining of back pain, pinched nerves, neck pain, headaches, and a variety of other conditions caused by strain on the musculoskeletal system.”

Tips To Combat Lower Pack Pain

With back pain being such a prevalent issue for so many Americans, there is growing interest in solutions to the epidemic, ranging from exercise to lifestyle to ergonomics. A recent article on Medical Daily espouses the virtues of yoga in the workplace, featuring a graphic demonstrating five yoga beneficial yoga poses that can be done without even leaving one’s desk.


Numerous recent studies have also proven that regular breaks from prolonged periods of sitting are very effective at combating lower back pain. An article in the Huffington Post suggests that the sudden popularity of standing workstations in the modern workplace is a kind of back-to-the-future phenomenon, as “large, communal tables built for standing around were common in workplaces from the mid-19th through the early 20th centuries.”

In many cases, sitting down is unavoidable, in which case ergonomics can be highly effective in preventing or helping alleviate lower back pain. A recent post on Spine-health details six distinct elements of how a chair should be situated at one’s desk in order to reduce pressure on the spine, including elbow angle, pressure on the thighs, distance from the chair front to the calf, lower back support, resting eye level, and arm rest position.

Regardless of the solutions employed, reducing lower back pain in the United States is not just a health issue, it is a financial issue as well. A 2014 post on Money Crashers stated that the annual cost of back pain in the United States, due to lost work days and decreased worker productivity, is anywhere from $50b to a staggering $200b depending on whose data one chooses to rely on.

[Image Credit: Oli Scarff / Getty Images News]