Who gets back problems?

About 3.7 million Australians (16% of the total population) have back problems, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2014–15 National Health Survey.

Back problems are more common among those aged 65–79, affecting 28% of men and 26% of women in this age group. They are least common among people from birth to age 15. The prevalence of back problems for males and females is similar.

Back problems reported on these webpages includes:

  • Disc disorders (such as herniated discs 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. For this reason, the total prevalence of back problems is likely to be underestimated.

Figure 1: Prevalence of back problems, by age and sex 2014–15

The vertical bar chart shows that back problems are more common among those aged 65–79, affecting 28%25 of men and 26%25 of women in this age group. They are least common among people from birth to age 15. The prevalence of back problems for males and females is similar.

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

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

According to the ABS 2012–13 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (AATSIHS), Indigenous people were 1.2 times as likely to report having back problems as total Australians.

Figure 2: Prevalence of back problems by Indigenous status, 2012–13

The vertical bar chart shows that, after adjusting for age, Indigenous people are 1.2 times as likely to report having back problems as non-Indigenous people.

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

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (unpublished), 2012–13 (Data table).

Inequalities

Based on the 2014–15 National Health Survey, the prevalence of back problems is similar between in Major cities (15.5%) compared to Inner regional (16.2%) and Outer regional and remote (15.7%) areas.

The prevalence of back problems is higher for areas of lowest socioeconomic status (17.7%) compared to areas of highest socioeconomic status (15.5%), although the difference is not significant.

Figure 3: Prevalence of back problems, by remoteness and socioeconomic group, 2014–15

The horizontal bar chart shows that rates were relatively similar in the prevalence of back problems between Major cities, Inner regional areas, and Outer regional/Remote Australia. People living in the lowest socioeconomic group (group 1) were more likely to have back problems compared with those in the highest socioeconomic group (group 5) (18%25 and 16%25 respectively), although the difference is not significant.

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).