Back problems and associated comorbidities: the numbers

An estimated 3.7 million Australians (16.2% of the total population) report having back problems, based on self-reported data from the 2014–15 National Health Survey. Of these, around 2 million people (10.6% of the total population) report also having one or more of the following selected chronic conditions:

  • cardiovascular disease (CVD)
  • arthritis
  • mental health problems
  • asthma
  • diabetes
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • cancer.

These 7 chronic conditions have been selected because they are common, pose significant health problems, have been the focus of ongoing national surveillance efforts, and action can be taken to prevent their occurrence.

Nearly two-thirds (65.4%) of people with back problems report having at least one other of these chronic conditions. Nearly one-third (30.5%) report one other chronic condition, 18.7% report two, and 16.2% three or more other chronic conditions.

Figure 1: Number of other selected chronic conditions in people with back problems, 2014–15

Vertical bar chart showing; other chronic conditions (none, 1, 2, 3 or more) on the x axis ; per cent (0 to 40) on the y axis.

Note: The 7 other selected chronic conditions are CVD, mental health problems, arthritis, asthma, COPD, diabetes and cancer.

Source: ABS National Health Survey, 2014–15 (see Data table).

Types of comorbid chronic conditions in people with back problems

Figure 2 shows that among people with back problems:

  • 31.4% report having arthritis, compared with 12.2% without back problems
  • 30.9% report having CVD, compared with 15.8% without back problems
  • 29.8% report having mental health problems, compared with 15.1% without back problems.

Note: These components do not total 100% as one person may have more than one comorbidity.

Figure 2: Prevalence of other chronic conditions in people with and without back problems, 2014–15

Vertical bar chart showing (with back problems, without back problems); chronic conditions (arthritis, CVD, mental, asthma, diabetes, COPD, Cancer) on the x axis ; per cent (0 to 40) on the y axis.

Source: ABS National Health Survey, 2014–15 (see Data table).

Back problems comorbidities by age

The prevalence of chronic conditions in people with back problems varies with age.

In younger people (aged 0–44) with back problems:

  • 30.9% report mental health problems
  • 16.1% report asthma
  • 10.5% report CVD.

In younger people (aged 0–44) with back problems, compared to those without back problems, rates were:

  • 4 times as high for arthritis
  • 3 times as high for COPD
  • 2 times as high for mental health problems, CVD, asthma and diabetes, although the difference is not significant for diabetes.

Figure 3: Prevalence of other chronic conditions in people aged 0–44 with and without back problems, 2014–15

Vertical bar chart showing (with back problems, without back problems); chronic conditions (mental, asthma, CVD, arthritis, COPD, diabetes, cancer) on the x axis ; per cent (0 to 40) on the y axis.

Source: ABS National Health Survey, 2014–15 (see Data table).

In people aged 45–64 with back problems:

  • 34.7% report arthritis
  • 33.4% report CVD
  • 31.3% report mental health problems.

In people aged 45–64 with back problems, compared to those without back problems, rates were 2 times as high for arthritis, mental health problems, and COPD.

The difference in rates was not significant for asthma and diabetes.

Figure 4: Prevalence of other chronic conditions in people aged 45–64 with and without back problems, 2014–15

Vertical bar chart showing (with back problems, without back problems); chronic conditions (arthritis, CVD, mental, asthma, diabetes, COPD, Cancer) on the x axis ; per cent (0 to 40) on the y axis.

Source: ABS National Health Survey, 2014–15 (see Data table).

In older people aged 65 and over with back problems:

  • 64.8% report arthritis
  • 62.5% report CVD
  • 24.6% report mental health problems.

In older people aged 65 and over with back problems, compared to those without back problems, rates were:

  • 2 times as high for asthma, mental health problems and COPD
  • 1.4 times as high for arthritis.

The difference in rates was not significant for CVD and diabetes.

Figure 5: Prevalence of other chronic conditions in people aged 65 and over with and without back problems, 2014–15

Vertical bar chart showing (with back problems, without back problems); chronic conditions (arthritis, CVD, mental, diabetes, asthma, COPD, Cancer) on the x axis ; per cent (0 to 80) on the y axis.

Source: ABS National Health Survey, 2014–15 (see Data table).

The impact of increasing age on the prevalence of age-related conditions (arthritis, CVD, diabetes, COPD, and cancer) is similar for people with back problems and people without back problems.

The prevalence of other conditions is not affected by age.

Table 1: Prevalence of other chronic conditions in people with back problems by age, 2014–15

Chronic conditions 0–44
%
95%CI(a) 45–64
%
95%CI(a) 65 and over
%
95%CI(a)
Arthritis 9.1 6.9–11.3 34.7 31.3–38.1 64.8 60.1–69.5
CVD 10.5 8.5–12.5 33.4 30.1–36.7 62.5 57.2–67.8
Mental health problems 30.9 26.6–35.2 31.3 27.9–34.7 24.6 21.1–28.1
Asthma 16.1 13.0–19.2 12.8 10.2–15.4 14.8 11.9–17.7
Diabetes 1.7 0.6–2.8 9.3 7.5–11.1 21.6 17.8–25.4
COPD 2.6 1.2–4.0 6.3 4.8–7.8 12.4 9.8–15.0
Cancer 0.2 0.0–0.4 2.8 1.2–4.4 6.5 4.1–8.9
  1. Shows the lower and upper limits of confidence interval. We can be 95% confident that the true value is within this interval.

Note: Components may not add to totals as one person may have more than one comorbidity.

Source: ABS National Health Survey, 2014–15.