How Much is Your Lower Back Worth?
From a business standpoint, lower back pain costs a lot! It is the second most common cause of adult disability in the U.S., and estimates suggest that 149 million days of work per year are lost due to lower back pain.1
Some back-related absenteeism from work stems from on-the-job injuries. This leads to workers comp claims ranging from $40,000 – 80,000. However, not all lower back pain happens from an accident. Normal wear and tear, whether at work or just daily life, can erode back health. While it’s true that some jobs put more strain on the back due to heavy lifting or poor office ergonomics, the workplace is not the only source of low back pain. It’s just the most obvious place to begin adding up the dollars that disappear from U.S. industry because of it.
It’s not just corporate America that feels the pinch (or the pain). We all experience rising healthcare costs, and America has some of the highest in the world. According to Finckler & Keemink, “The total direct costs of back pain related healthcare utilization are $96 million a year. And because lower back pain often exists with other symptoms, such as depression and chronic fatigue it means back pain sufferers are among the most expensive patients. Healthcare costs for people with back pain are on average 60 percent higher than for those without back pain.”2
Increasing prevalence of back pain
Healthcare costs are not the only thing on the rise. The rate of back pain that impairs daily activity is also increasing. In a study of North Carolina households, the number of adults who had disabling chronic low back pain (3+ months) rose over a 14-year period. In 1992, the incidence was 3.9%; by 2006, it had risen to 10.2%. This means 1 out of every 10 adults! The number of those who were seen by a health care provider also increased from 73.1% in 1992, to 84% in 2006. The increase occurred regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or general health, though in general more women were affected than men.3
Why the increase?
The authors of the above study speculate that increases in obesity may play a part, since obesity is a risk factor for painful back conditions like facet joint osteoarthritis. In addition, lower back pain is correlated with depression, another condition that has been rising in prevalence.
Other evidence connects rising rates with lifestyle changes as we are becoming more sedentary. We spend hours without changing position very much, whether sitting at a work computer or vegging out in front of the TV. Staying in the same position for long periods contributes to both acute and chronic low back pain—not to mention obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Finally, in our fast-paced world we are confronted with daily stressors that drive up our level of tension and anxiety. Chronic back pain is frequently the result of tight muscles we are not even aware of, throwing off our posture and putting compression on nerves.
Low back pain is preventable
Each of us as an individual can’t make much of a dent in the economic costs associated with low back pain. However, we can avoid paying a personal price: enduring chronic back misery, missing days of work, going to doctor appointments, popping anti-inflammatories, and caving in to depression or irritability. We can do so because back pain can be prevented.
Here are a few simple guidelines to keep the back in good health:
- Eat healthy foods in order to maintain normal weight for your age. This means don’t give in to tempting junk food. Instead, eat fresh fruits/vegetables, cut down on red meat, avoid processed or refined foods, consume whole grains, etc. If you are overweight, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about safe ways to shed pounds.
- Enjoy the benefits of exercise, which include stronger muscles (makes injury to your back less likely when lifting heavy objects), reduced inflammation (a precursor to pain and other disorders), and helps lose weight.
- If you must lift something heavy, learn proper techniques that employ leg strength, not back strength.
- Change position frequently during the day. If you sit for long periods, try to get up, stretch, and walk around for a few minutes every hour.
Your lower back is worth a lot, not just to keep the economy healthy, but more importantly as a gift to your own health and well-being. It’s not possible to put a dollar value on those intangibles, but if you have ever been disabled by low back pain even for a few days, you know what I’m talking about.
In short, take care of your lower back, and it will reward you on all levels.
1Freburger JK, Holmes GM, Agans RP, Jackman AM et al. The rising prevalence of chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 9;169(3):251-8.
2Finckler C & Keemink R. “Score Point: How Much is Lower Back Pain Costing Your Company?” Corporate Wellness Mgazine. http://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/column/sore-points-how-much-is-employee-back-pain-costing-your-company/
3 Freeburger, et al., ibid.
- Facet Pain