Who gets back problems?

About 4.0 million Australians (16% of the total population) have back problems, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017–18 National Health Survey (NHS).

Back problems increase with age. They are least common among people from birth to age 24 (Figure 1). The overall prevalence of back problems, after accounting for age, is similar for males (16%) and females (15%).

Back problems reported on these webpages include:

  • 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 2017–18

The vertical bar chart shows that back problems are most common among males aged 55–64 (31%25) and females aged 65–74 (26%25). They are least common among people from birth to age 24 (3%25 in males and 4%25 in females). The prevalence of back problems for males and females is similar.

Note: refers to people who self-reported having back pain and problems (current and long term).

Source: AIHW analysis of (ABS 2019) [1] (Data table)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

According to self-reported data from to the ABS 2012–13 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (AATSIHS) and the ABS 2011–13 Australian Health Survey, Indigenous people were 1.1 times as likely to report having back problems compared with non-Indigenous Australians after adjusting for age (Figure 2).

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

The vertical bar chart shows that, after adjusting for age, the prevalence of back problems was relatively similar in Indigenous Australians (13%25 of males, 15%25 of females) compared with Total Australians (13%25 of males, 12%25 of females).

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

Source: ABS 2014 [2] (Data table).

Inequalities

Based on self-reported data from the 2017–18 National Health Survey, the prevalence of back problems is similar in Major cities (16%) compared with Inner regional (17%) and Outer regional and remote (15%) areas.

The prevalence of back problems is higher among people living in the lowest socioeconomic areas (19%) compared with people in the highest socioeconomic areas (12%) (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Prevalence of back problems, by remoteness and socioeconomic area, 2017–18

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

Source: AIHW analysis of (ABS 2019) [1] (Data table).

References

  1. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2017–18, detailed microdata, DataLab. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Findings based on AIHW analysis of ABS microdata. 

  2. ABS 2014. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: First Results, Australia, 2012–13. ABS cat. no. 4727.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.