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Bad backs costing the country

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Chronic back problems including herniated discs, sciatica and curvature of the spine are taking a heavy physical and emotional toll on individuals and are costing the community more than $1 billion a year to treat.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has estimated that 3.7 million people, around on in every six adults, are suffering from a chronic back problem, damaging their quality of life and driving up health costs for taxpayers.

The Institute found that those with back problems were twice as likely as the broader population to say they were in poor health, including almost 150,000 who reported being in severe pain and 260,000 who said they experienced high levels of psychological distress.

Even where pain and distress is more moderate, the effect of chronic back problems can have a significant impact on quality of life by limiting mobility and affecting the ability to work and socialise.

The AIHW said it was third leading cause of disease burden in the country, accounting for more than 7 per cent of all years lived with disability.

The economic effects were also significant.

The Institute said figures showed almost $1.2 billion was spent treating back problems in 2008-09, almost half on hospital care and 13 per cent on medication.

Back problems were most prevalent among those aged 45 to 64 years, where almost one in every five reported the condition.

The most common risk factors for a bad back were inactivity (38 per cent), obesity (33 per cent) and smoking (16 per cent).

The report can be viewed at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129556199

Adrian Rollins