Study design: Review and analysis of data from two U.S. national surveys in 2002.
Objectives: To examine the prevalence of back pain and physician visits for back pain in the United States.
Summary of background data: National data on the prevalence of back pain become available only intermittently.
Methods: We summarized published data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) on the prevalence of back pain and compared it with earlier surveys. We also analyzed the 2002 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) to determine physician visit rates for back pain.
Results: In the 2002 NHIS, there were 31,044 adult respondents. Low back pain lasting at least a whole day in the past 3 months was reported by 26.4% of respondents, and neck pain was reported by 13.8%. Among racial groups, American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest prevalence of low back pain, and Asian Americans had the lowest. Prevalence generally declined with greater levels of education and increasing income. Prevalence estimates were consistent with those from previous surveys, although methodologic differences limited comparisons. NAMCS data suggested that the proportion of all physician visits attributable to low back pain (2.3% in 2002) has changed little since the early 1990s.
Conclusions: About one fourth of U.S. adults report low back pain in the past 3 months; the proportion of physician visits attributed to back pain has changed little in the past decade.