Did you know that each year, more than 65 million Americans experience back pain? 80% of us will suffer from back pain at some point in our lives. …..80%…That’s 4 out of every five people! Does that make you a little nervous? It was previously thought that 90% of all back pain resolves on it’s own within 4-6 weeks, but now studies are showing that only 20 of people will have no other symptoms within the year. 70-80% of people will have some form of reoccurring symptoms in the year to follow. For 3-4% of the people, back pain will turn into a chronic (long standing) problem. If you talk to the folks around you, you may find that up to a third of them will have had some form of back pain within the last 30 days. Any guesses what the only type of pain that people have more frequently than back pain? It’s headache. That’s the only one. Not hip pain or knee pain or carpal tunnel pain. So not only do most of us get back pain, but we also get it frequently!

Here are some other statistics that may scare you. If they don’t scare you, at least concern you. The direct cost to treat people in America with back pain is $26 Billion dollars a year. That’s 2.5% of the total health care costs in America. If we add in, all the indirect cost (such as welfare, disability, lost tax revenue and lost productivity, the amount exceeds $90 Billion dollars. Some sources report up to $100 Billion dollars per year. Those are some pretty staggering numbers, so let’s break it down a little more.

What does this mean if you are an employer?

Back pain is the number 1 cause of job related disability in the United States. Back pain accounts for ¼ of all workers compensation claims. Back pain is also the 2 nd most common reason to miss work. It is 2 nd only to “cold symptoms”. Have you ever hurt your back and still had to go to work? What happens? Do you slow down? Do you get as much work done? Do you have to get a fellow employee to help you with certain tasks? Did you know that the cost (of back pain) to employers is $61.2 Billion dollars a year? The majority of that amount (76.6%) is when the person with back pain is still at work, but in pain and not as productive. An average workers compensation “back claim” costs an employer $20 thousand dollars. That is just an average claim. So, as an employer, back pain means, a big loss of money.

What does this mean to you if you are an employee?

Well, let me ask you this: Do you feel you pay too little money on your health care? Do you wish your premiums were higher? Do you think you should pay more? If you do have back pain, you will pay more. You will most likely pay 2 ½ times as much on health care costs as someone without back pain.

Now let’s talk about lost wages. Those of you who have been on disability know, it doesn’t pay as much as your normal wages. A study has shown that a person with back pain will miss on average 6.8 days of work (in a 12 month time period). This number is slightly more if the injury is job related (9.2 days), and a bit less for injuries outside of work (4.9 days). That’s about 1 week of missed work, with a possibility of less pay or even no pay.

What else?

This is not to mention the difficulty or inability to do your normal day to day activities. Mow the lawn, take out the trash, play basketball with the kids, work in the garden or go to the gym. The truth is, when your back hurts, it can affect every part of your life.

That is why it is so important to be proactive when it comes to your back. It is important to learn a little about the anatomy of your spine and how it works. Do you know what the spine is meant to do, and what it is not meant to do? Do you know how to protect your spine and prevent back injuries? If you have hurt your back in the past, do you know the best ways to keep it from happening again? Do you know the safest way to lift things? Do you know what to do if you hurt your back? A physical therapist can help to answer some of these questions. We, as physical therapists, have a unique view of back care. We don’t just want to treat your back; we want to teach you how to care for your own back and maintain a healthy back for life.

 For more information about our prevention and treatment philosophy, visit our Back Pain Physical Therapy page.


Nisha J Manek & A J MacGregor. Epidemiology of Back Disorders, Prevalence, Risk Factors and Prognosis. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2005; 17 (2) 134-140.

Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council- Back Pain: A Costly Ache. April 2004.

Pain Advocacy Community. Overview: The Cost of Pain. April 2004.