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Wednesday, June 30, 1999 Published at 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK


Back pain torments millions

Millions suffer from back pain

Four out of 10 adults in Britain suffered from back pain last year, and 15% of those were in discomfort for at least 12 months, official fgures have revealed.

The figures, published in a Department of Health document, also show that back pain is a major cause of sickness absence from work.

Five per cent of people in employment aged between 16 and 64 had taken time off work with back pain in the month before the survey was carried out.

The figures also highlight the widening gap between the social classes in terms of suffering.

Forty-four per cent of skilled, partly skilled and unskilled workers reported back pain.

This compared to 37% of professional, intermediate and skilled non-manual workers reporting back pain.

The survey also revealed:

  • A third of back pain sufferers said that back pain had restricted their activity in the four weeks before the interview
  • Thirteen per cent of back pain sufferers aged 16 to 64 who said that they were unemployed in the previous month mentioned back pain as a reason why they were not in work
  • Nearly 40% of back pain sufferers consulted a GP for help, 10% visited a practitioner of complementary medicine

[ image: Tessa Jowell has pledged to tackle back pain]
Tessa Jowell has pledged to tackle back pain
Health Minister Tessa Jowell has pledged that tackling back pain will be one of the top priorities in the forthcoming White Paper on public health expected to be published next month.

She said: "These figures underline the huge costs to industry and damage to human health back pain causes. "Current evidence shows that around 11 million working days and an estimated £5bn are lost to industry every year."

Ms Jowell said the government had already launched a "Back to Work" initiative to encourage industry to adopt more "back-friendly" policies.

She said more than 300 businesses had registered an interest in the initiative which offers grants of up to £50,000 to improve their facilities.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) called for the government to set specific targets for improving occupational health.

It said ministers should set their sights on a reduction of one tenth in the number of days lost at work due to sickness absence by 2005, and a reduction of one fifth by 2010.

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