UK study shows high cost of treating back pain

Published on 04 January 2013
UK study shows high cost of treating back pain

Chronic low back pain places a significant burden on the UK economy, a new study has shown.

Researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science looked at data from the General Practice Research Database, including records of diagnoses and pain relief prescriptions for chronic low back pain.

In total, they looked at data on 64,167 patients with chronic low back pain and a further 52,986 patients who were pain-free between 2007 and 2009.

The records showed that the total health care costs for patients with back pain were double those for patients without back pain.

On average, the financial burden of caring for a patient with low back pain in the 12 months following their diagnosis was £1,074, compared with just £516 for a typical person without back pain.

Almost three-fifths (58.8 per cent) of this cost difference was due to additional GP consultations, with another fifth (22.3 per cent) due to referrals to secondary care and the remainder accounted for by the cost of pain medications.

The researchers noted that the findings do not take into account the indirect costs associated with low back pain, nor the expense of over-the-counter medications or lack of adherence to treatment.

Publishing their findings in Spine journal, the study authors concluded: "Our findings confirm the substantial economic burden of chronic low back pain, even with direct costs only."

A spokesman for Arthritis Research UK, which funds research into the causes and better treatments of back pain, commented: "Chronic back pain is the scourge of modern western society and is a huge burden to the NHS.

"There are a number of treatments, including painkillers and exercise, and our research has also established that yoga can help people whose back pain becomes chronic (long-term)."