What role do hospitals play in treating back problems?

Back problems can be managed in a variety of ways including pain management, rehabilitation, patient education and surgery.

Spinal surgery is usually the last resort in the treatment of back problems. It may include:

  • Removing bone to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots (segment of spinal nerve attached to the spinal cord)
  • removing a portion of the intervertebral disc
  • spinal fusion surgery (joining of two vertebrae to stop movement between them)
  • replacing an intervertebral disc.

Data from the AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD) show that in 2014–15:

  • there were 126,579 hospitalisations with a principal diagnosis of a back problem
  • the rate of hospitalisations was greater for females than males (574 per 100,000 compared with 498 per 100,000)
  • the rate of hospitalisation for back problems increased with increasing age.

Common reasons for back problem hospitalisations

The top 3 causes for back problem hospitalisations were:

  • low back pain (27% of hospitalisations for back problems)
  • lumbar and other intervertebral disc disorders with radiculopathy (i.e. when one or more nerve roots is affected and does not work properly) (11%)
  • spinal stenosis (i.e. abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal that causes compression of the spinal cord) (7%).

Figure 1: Rate of hospitalisation for back problems, by sex and age, 2014–15

The vertical bar chart shows that in 2014–15, the hospitalisation rate for the principal diagnosis of back problems was greater for females than males. The hospitalisation rate increased with age for males, but decreased in the 85 and over age group for females.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database (Data table).

In the 10 years from 2005–06 to 2014–15, the age-standardised hospitalisation rate for back problems among Australians increased from 421 per 100,000 to 499 per 100,000. The hospitalisation rate increased similarly for males and females during this period.

Figure 2: Rate of hospitalisation for back problems, by sex, 2005–06 to 2014–15

The line chart shows that age-standardised hospitalisation rates for back problems as the principal diagnosis increased from 421 per 100,000 population in 2005–06 to 499 per 100,000 population 2014–15. The increase in hospitalisation rates was similar for males and females during this period.

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

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database (Data table).