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

Andrew Armstrong

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."
"...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."

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]