How do back problems affect quality of life?

The chronic and widespread nature of back problems often lead to poorer quality of life, psychological distress, bodily pain and disability.

Back problems reported on these webpages includes:

  • Disc disorders (such as herniated disc or disc degeneration)
  • Sciatica and curvature of the spine
  • Back pain/problems not elsewhere classified.

Note, back problems that are caused by another condition, such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis, are not included.

Perceived health status

People aged 15 and over with back problems are less likely to perceive their health as excellent than those without the condition according to the 2014–15 National Health Survey (NHS). People with back problems were 2.3 times as likely to rate their health as poor (7.3%) compared to those without back problems (3.2%).

Figure 1: Self-assessed health of people aged 15 and over with and without back problems, 2014–15

The vertical bar chart shows that, people aged 15 and over with back problems are less likely to perceive their health as excellent than people without back problems. People with back problems were 2.3 times as likely to rate their health as poor (7.3%25) compared to those without back problems (3.2%25).

Note: Rates are age-standardised to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014–15 (Data table).

Psychological distress

Overall, people aged 18 and over with back problems were 2.2 times as likely to report very high levels of psychological distress (6.5%) than those without the condition (2.9%).

Figure 2: Psychological distress experienced by people aged 18 and over with and without back problems, 2014–15

The vertical bar chart shows that, people aged 18 and over with back problems were 2.2 times as likely to report very high levels of psychological distress (6.5%25) than those without back problems (2.9%25).

Note: Rates are age-standardised to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014–15 (Data table).

Pain

The experience of pain in people aged 18 and over with back problems is generally towards the moderate to very severe end of the spectrum. People with back problems were twice as likely to report severe (11.6%) and three times as likely to report very severe (3.2%) bodily pain compared with those without the condition (5.4% and 1.0% respectively) according to the 2014–15 NHS.

Figure 3: Pain experienced by people aged 18 and over with and without back problems, 2014–15

The vertical bar chart shows that people aged 18 and over with back problems were twice as likely to report severe (11.6%25) and three times as likely to report very severe (3.2%25) bodily pain compared with those without the condition (5.4%25 and 1.0%25 respectively).

Note: Rates are age-standardised to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014–15 (Data table).

Core activity limitation

According to the ABS 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), 80% of people with disability and back problems experienced core activity limitations compared to 72% of people with disability but no back problems. Of people with disability and back problems, 36% reported severe or profound core activity limitation and 44% reported mild to moderate core activity limitation. This compares to 32% and 40% of people with disability but no back problems.

Figure 4: Core activity limitations in people with disability, with and without back problems, 2012

The vertical stacked bar shows that of people with disability and back problems, 36%25 reported severe or profound core activity limitation and 44%25 reported mild to moderate core activity limitation. This compares to 32%25 and 40%25 of people with disability but no back problems.

Note: Rates are age-standardised to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 2009 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (Data table).

Workforce participation

There was very little difference in workforce participation of for those aged 15–64 with and without back problems, according to the 2014–15 NHS.

Figure 5: Workforce participation of people aged 15–64 with and without back problems, 2014–15

The vertical bar chart shows that there was very little difference in the workforce participation of 15–64 year olds with and without back problems.

Note: Rates are age-standardised to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001.