Back Pain Statistics in Australia


January 9, 2024

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Do you know that 5.23 million Australians may suffer from chronic back pain by 2050?

Besides, about 70 to 90% of the population will suffer back pain at some point in their lives. However, with the sedentary lifestyle that most people have today, not many take preventative steps.

Hence, we have put forward some statistics that will alert you for good. Let’s start then, shall we?

Quick stats:

  • Around 80,000 Australians suffer from chronic back pain lasting for 3 months or more
  • 40% of back pain sufferers claim that the pain hinders their daily lives
  • 50% people experience back pain due to incorrect sleeping posture
  • 19% Australians link their back pain to stress

Back injury statistics In Australia 2023

Before we tell you why so many Australians suffer from back pain, here’s a general overview of the current scenario:

  • Back pain and problems were the third leading cause of disease burden overall, accounting for 23% of disease expenditure on musculoskeletal conditions and 2.4% of total health expenditure in Australia in 2019-20.
  • In 2020-21, there were 192,000 hospitalisations with a principal diagnosis of back problems, a rate of 750 per 100,000 population in Australia.
  • Back problems were recorded as an underlying or associated cause for 1,024 deaths or 4.0 deaths per 100,000 population in Australia in 2021, representing 0.6% of all deaths and 11% of all musculoskeletal deaths.
  • Almost 3 in 4 people (74%) of people with back problems report also having one or more other chronic conditions.
  • According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1 in 6 Australians (16%) have back problems.
  • Low back pain (LBP) has the highest prevalence globally among musculoskeletal conditions and is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
  • The prevalence of adult overweight and obesity in Australia is associated with an increased risk of back pain and problems.

You will also be surprised to know that back pain is one of the leading causes affecting the Australian economy since the condition:

  • Costs the national healthcare system about $4.8 billion per year
  • Shrinks the GDP by $3.2 billion per year (due to reduced working hours)
  • Causes the overall productivity of the country to fall by 1.1 million years per year

Chronic pain statistics

Chronic pain is associated with older age, disability, being unemployed for health reasons, having poor self-rated health, and high levels of psychological distress.

  • Chronic pain is common in Australia, with one in five Australians aged 45 and over living with persistent, ongoing pain
  • Chronic pain can be disabling and stressful, making it hard for a person to work and do the things they enjoy
  • In 2018, chronic pain cost an estimated $139 billion in Australia, mostly through reduced quality of life and productivity losses
  • People with chronic pain are almost three times as likely to be dispensed opioids and other analgesics and migraine medication as those without pain
  • In 2017-18, there were nearly 105,000 hospitalisations involving chronic pain in Australia
  • Almost one in five (1.6 million) Australians aged 45 and over had chronic pain in 2016, with females and older people being more likely to have chronic pain

Seems though were on the topic here is the best mattress for lower back pain sufferers in Australia

What Causes Back Pain After All?

As you may already know, back pain isn’t caused by one particular reason, nor does it have the same intensity for all sufferers. In the following sections, we have listed some statistics that’ll help you understand the various reasons behind it and how they affect different people.

1. It Doesn’t Always Come With A Cause

If you think that your persisting back pain has a definite cause, then this statistic will make you think again. According to Health Direct, 9 out of 10 people who suffer from back pain can’t be diagnosed with any particular condition. 

This is referred to as “non-specific” pain and can be related to multiple generic reasons like:

  • Incorrect posture
  • General muscle weakness (back or abdomen)
  • Muscle spasm or strain
  • Excessive pressure on the spine
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Lack of physical activities

However, the good news is that you can treat it even without knowing the exact reason. In fact, only 1 out of 100 Australians suffer from back pain that is caused by specific medical conditions like spondylitis, fracture, infection or cancer.

2. Poor Or Bad Posture 

It’s no surprise that many Australians spend a majority of their day sitting on the office chair for long hours. And this sedentary lifestyle has emerged as a leading contributor to increasing musculoskeletal conditions, which can cause back pain.

To be precise, the SACOSS, Safe Work website states that the average Australian working in an office spends nearly 76% (or nearly 5 hours) of his or her total work hours sitting. Additionally, people who spend a lot of their day working on computers are at 50% more risk of developing a musculoskeletal condition.

3. Wrong Sleeping Posture

Wrong posture isn’t just limited to sitting- you can develop chronic back pain if you’re sleeping the wrong way. The Daily Mail has shed light on a research by ECOSA, which found out that 50% of the 4,500 participants had a sleeping posture that caused other health issues.

Not only that, but the wrong mattress or pillow can also expose your spine to undue pressure. Such prolonged stress, especially near the shoulder or hip joints, can cause back pain in the future.

4. Lower Back Injuries And Back Pain

The University of Virginia has quoted a study by the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) stating that 80% of all back injuries (specifically lower back) are caused by lifting heavy items in the workplace. These include handling heavy machinery in warehouses or at construction sites.

Out of them, about 24% are caused by common tasks like pulling, pushing, lifting and bending. 

Different Types Of Back Pains

Now, let’s take a look at the different types of back pains and how much of the population is affected by them.

1. Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain (LBP) is the most prevalent type of musculoskeletal pain that general practitioners in Australia treat regularly. It roughly affects 1 in 4 or 7 Australians, and almost 25% of the population suffers from it on any given day. Hence, it doesn’t come as a total shocker that about 50% of the population may have experienced LBP in the last month.

Moreover, 10 to 40% of the adult population is prone to experiencing acute lower back pain.

2. Chronic Back Pain

Chronic back pain accounts for a little less than 28% (or about 888,000) of all the chronic pain cases in the country. The number of chronic back pain sufferers around 5 years back was about 3.24 million, and the number may well cross the 5 million mark in the next three decades.

3. Acute (Non-Specific) Lower Back Pain

Acute LBP refers to the pain that lasts for nearly six weeks, and approximately 94% of the population has been vulnerable to it at some point. While about 1% of sufferers may experience light to medium pinching nerve sensation, 5% of all sufferers develop severe inflammation or even musculoskeletal damage.

Although paracetamol is a popular drug to treat acute LBP, a 2014 study showed that it was just as effective as any other placebo.

4. Sciatica

Sciatica is among the widely known causes of back pain and is caused when the sciatica nerve comes under undue pressure, stress or irritation. Approximately 5 to 10% of back pain sufferers usually have this condition, and about 1 to 5 % of them are in the 25 to 45-year-old age group.

However, 90% of sciatica cases originate from a herniated muscular disc and severe compression of the related nerve root.

Effects Of Back Pain In Australia

1. Illness And Disability

In 2015, AIHW (Australian Institute Of Health And Welfare) stated that back pain, in general, accounted for over 4% of the total disease burden of the country, making it the second-largest contributor. Consequently, 28% or nearly 1.2 million Australians experience some form of disability due to acute or chronic back pain.

2. Work Absence

About 25% of the total workforce in Australia are forced to take up to 10 days off per year due to chronic back pain, thereby affecting productivity levels across industries.

3. Poor Life Quality

An AIHW report of 2014-15  stated that about 9% of back pain sufferers deemed their life quality as poor, while nearly 7% suffered from some form of psychological distress. Likewise, 3.7% of sufferers complained of body pains.

4. Lack Of Sleep

About 50-90% of people with acute or chronic back pain have trouble sleeping at night, which, again, can cause a dip in productivity.

What Can You Do To Manage Back Pain?

One of the best ways to manage your acute or chronic back pain is to stay fit by exercising or walking regularly. And by combining it with a healthy diet, you can practice active weight management, which will reduce the stress on your muscles and joints.

If you have to spend a lot of time sitting (like at the office or while travelling), then watch your posture to keep the spine as straight as possible. Take frequent ‘walking breaks’ or stretch your legs, which we advise doing every hour.

Apart from that, be careful while lifting heavy weights- squat down properly and hold the object close to your chest. Then, stand up using your legs and keep your back straight to avoid the possibility of developing a back injury. And if you already have a strained back, avoid lifting weights in the first place.

Sleeping on the right mattress and with the right posture can also help prevent back pain and other issues. As a general rule of thumb, opt for a mattress that provides ample support to your lower back without making you sink into it. The best mattress should be neither too hard nor too soft; otherwise, it can put unnecessary strain on your body.

People with existing back injuries can try massage therapies and cold and hot compresses to relieve strained muscles or nerves. Furthermore, they should adopt a regular exercise schedule to better manage the pain.

However, always consult your doctor or general practitioner before committing to any workout plan- after all, the last thing you’d want is to aggravate the problem.

Final Words

That’s all we had for today.

Now that you have a better insight into Australia’s back pain problem, we hope you will take adequate measures to prevent it. While a little discomfort may appear harmless initially, it can turn into a serious problem quickly. Hence, always consult a doctor if your light back pain or strain lingers for more than a few days.

And we will see you next time.

Till then, take care!