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Carrington College Blog

Back pain is found to be leading cause of disability worldwide

May 20, 2014

The demand for physical therapists will increaseEmployment for physical therapists is expected to grow 36 percent between 2012 and 2022, a number that is triple the average growth rate of all other occupations.1 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a greater demand for professionals who have completed a medical assisting program and are licensed physical therapists. This will be in response to the aging population in the U.S. who have been staying more active later in life than previous generations. Seniors are more prone to mobility-related injuries and health problems than young people. Some examples of these health issues include heart attacks and strokes, which require physical therapy for rehabilitation.1

There has also been a marked increase in the number of people suffering from chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity. Physical therapists and their assistants play an integral role in these patients’ lives because they help the patients maintain their mobility and manage the adverse effects of their medical condition.1 Back pain is another major factor in the increase in demand for physical therapists. Several studies have been conducted recently that have shown how much back pain affects the overall well being of people around the world.2

Back pain is a worldwide problem

In Australia, the University of Queensland’s School of Population Health released a study this year revealing that eight out of 10 people regularly suffer from back pain.2 This medical problem has been named the No. 1 leading cause of disability  throughout the world. Officials analyzed surveys involving the issue of back pain in 50 countries and researched 117 published studies that were focused on back pain.2

A senior research fellow at the University, Dr. Damian Hoy, led the study of the incidences of back pain. Hoy and the other researchers compared the frequency of lower-back pain to nearly 300 other health conditions, concluding that low back pain affects 9.4 percent of all people worldwide in 2010 alone.2 In a post on the health care website WebMD, Hoy explained, “Low back pain is something that almost all people experience at some point in their lives. It is something common across sexes, age groups, countries, socioeconomic groups, education levels and occupation. For the majority of people with low back pain, the specific cause is unclear.” 2

Non-medical factors can play a huge part in the development of back pain. Occupations that may require heavy lifting or involve extremely stressful conditions can cause strain on the back. Stress, low education levels, anxiety, depression and obesity can also be factors that cause this type of pain.2 The study results showed that people living in Western Europe had the highest prevalence of back pain at 15 percent of the population, while those from North Africa and the Middle East had the second highest, at 14.8 percent. The lowest reports of back pain, at 6.5 percent, were found in the Caribbean, with other similar rates found in high-income areas, such as North America.2

Work-related disability is linked to back pain

The University of Sydney in Australia also published a study that focused on data collected from 187 countries between 1990 and 2010.2 This report explained that low back pain was the cause of over one-third of all work-related disabilities. Certain jobs, including those in agriculture, fishing and hunting, also increased the health risk. The study discussed the fact that the average young adult may be fit and athletic, but if exercise is ignored in favor of work life, aging and poor health habits can create a bad situation for the back.2

Prevalence of back pain increases demand for therapy

Because this problem is so common, there is no shortage of ways to help patients experiencing mild to debilitating back pain. According to  E. Anne Reicherter, PhD, PT, DPT, associate professor of Physical Therapy at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, it is imperative for patients with back pain to stay active so the healing process can speed up. 2

One way for patients suffering from pain to stay active is with the help of physical therapists and their assistants. These medical professionals are trained to utilize a diverse variety of techniques to care for their patients. Different modalities include applying heat and cold to the injured or affected area, and helping patients use assistive devices such as crutches, wheelchairs and walkers. Physical therapists can also use special equipment, such as adhesive electrodes, which apply electric stimulation to treat injuries and pain.1

Outpatient surgery is also being used more and more thanks to advances in medical technology. A variety of injuries and illnesses can be treated with surgery, and because of this, physical therapists will continue to play a major role in patients’ recovery, helping with rehabilitation and regaining strength. Trauma victims and newborns with birth defects are two groups of patients who will greatly benefit from the new surgical technology that is being developed, as well as assistance from well-trained physical therapists.1 Thanks to the federal health insurance reform, more people will have access to health care, driving the demand for professionals in the field of physical therapy even higher.1

1 “Physical Therapists,” Bureau of Labor,

2 Lees, Katherine, “Low Back Pain Leading Cause of Disability Worldwide,” Science World, March 26, 2014,

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