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Acute low back pain is a very common problem that affects 60–80% of adults during their lifetimes. Fifty percent of working-age adults will have at least one episode of low back pain during any given year. At any one point in time, 15–20% of the population will report having low back pain, 1% of the population will be temporarily disabled, and 1% of the U.S. population will be chronically disabled from back pain. This equates to 24.5 million adults in the United States reporting back pain during the year 2000. Low back pain usually starts between age 30 and 50, with the median age of onset at 48 years. Men and women are equally affected by this problem and it crosses all social and racial boundaries. Epidemiologic studies have shown similar prevalence worldwide. Low back pain is second only to upper respiratory problems as the most common symptom-related reason for a physician visit. In 2000, 44 million prescriptions were written for low back pain, including prescriptions for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (16.5%), COX-2 inhibitors (10%), and muscle relaxants (18.5%).
Low back pain accounts for a huge financial expenditure. Although patients who become disabled owing to low back pain represent less than 5% of those with low back pain problems, they account for up to 60% of the societal costs for this disorder.
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