Low back pain is not a specific injury or disease, but this symptom ranks second only to upper respiratory infections as a cause of lost work productivity. With 2.4 million people excused from work and 13 million visits to the doctor each year, low back pain accounts for approximately 175.8 million days of restricted activity annually in the US.

The symptom is usually described as discomfort in the lumbosacral region of the back that may or may not radiate to the legs, hips and buttocks. The pain may be due to a variety of causes, and many individuals may never receive a clear diagnosis for the cause of the pain.

Although low back pain may be caused by medical conditions such as infection or cancer, the vast majority of low back pain cases are attributed to mechanical or musculoskeletal conditions. These conditions incude lumbosacral muscle and ligament strains and sprains; disorders of the intervertebral discs and associated joints such as degeneration.

Risk Factors:
An initial episode of back pain typically occurs between 30 and 40 years of age. The likelihood increases with age. Overall deconditioning also is likely to contribute to low back pain. Added stress to the back from any cause such as obesity, pregnancy or unnatural curvature or disease of the spine can increase the risk for back pain. Occupational risk factors include lifting objects while twisting or without properly bending the legs, heavy pushing or pulling, and vibrational stresses. A family history may predispose individuals to some causes of back pain, such as degenerative disc disease.

The mean return-to-work duration for low back pain is 46 days, but this can vary widely depending on treatment and other case management factors.

Want to know more? Read more about this common workplace injury and see typical disability durations and other physician-reviewed information at MDGuidelines.