According to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Australia spent more money (over $12.5 billion), on musculoskeletal pain-related conditions or injury than any other disease, and back pain in particular, was a significant part of this figure.
The leading pain-related musculoskeletal conditions that make up this figure include:
Osteoarthritis - $3.48 billion;
Gout - $176.4 million;
Rheumatoid Arthritis - $1.2 billion;
Back pain and related problems - $2.82 billion; and
On the surface, these figures are quite startling and represent arguably the largest portion of morbidity and cost in healthcare of any condition. When you consider, however, that back pain affects people in their most productive years, the costs associated with back-related pain come into sharper focus given their relationship to lost productivity.
Back pain and back-related issues are one of the leading causes of early retirement in Australia, representing a huge burden to the country's health and retirement systems. In fact, 40 percent of early retirements are due to back pain.
Beyond the cost, this data confirms what a lot of people living in the community know: living with chronic pain is a long and challenging journey that takes a significant toll on quality of life, a finding shared in Painaustralia’s Deloitte Access Economics report on the Cost of Pain in Australia.
It is because of these kind of statistics that the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) chose to make its 2021 global campaign about backpain. The campaign and associated report, seeks to provide a diverse range of information to assist in understanding what is currently known about the epidemiology, pathophysiology, and management of back pain, particularly with respect to the delivery of evidence-informed, cost-effective services to those living with back pain.
The IASP 2021 Global Year about Backpain report published on 12 July 2021 aims to guide and support clinicians, scientists, and the public in understanding the global challenges of preventing and treating back pain.
People living with chronic pain, including back pain, already face a multitude of complex barriers and unique challenges. The pandemic and correlated challenges in accessing primary and preventive health care services have had a major effect on the chronic pain community, as have recent opioid reforms restricting access to pain relieving medication. These are tough times for many with chronic pain.
Ensuring access to information, support and best-practice multidisciplinary care in the community is the key to improving the way we respond to back pain. For health professionals, access to quality pain management education and training as well as treatment options including, and beyond, medication is important.
Investment in research to address gaps in knowledge about back pain and improve pain management responses is another key strategy as outlined in the National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management. People in pain and their doctors and health providers need treatment options that are accessible and affordable.
Successive reports continue to confirm that chronic pain conditions (especially musculoskeletal and back pain in particular) are the most common cause of morbidity and cost in Australia. A condition that continues to exact such a large impact on our communities and leads to spiralling health related and quality of life costs should not be dismissed or downplayed. We need to raise awareness of pain and evidence-based management, and provide quality prevention, treatment, and research.
As a country we cannot afford to ignore the impact of pain. If we fail to acknowledge the urgent need to better respond to conditions like chronic back pain, the economic, social and health costs of pain will continue to increase. And who do we think is going to pay that bill?