Study design: A population-based cross-sectional multiregion postal survey.
Objective: To provide a descriptive epidemiology of the prevalence and severity of back pain in German adults and to analyze sociodemographic correlates for disabling back pain within and across regions.
Summary of background data: Back pain is a leading health problem in Germany. However, comprehensive population-based evidence on the severity of back pain is still fragmentary for this country. Despite earlier findings concerning large prevalence differences across regions, systematic explanations remain to be ascertained.
Methods: Questionnaire data were collected for 9263 subjects in 5 German cities and regions (population-based random samples, postal questionnaire). Point, 1-year, and lifetime prevalence were assessed using direct questions, and graded back pain was determined using the Graded Chronic Pain Scale. Poststratification was applied to adjust for cross-regional sociodemographic differences.
Results: Point-prevalence was 37.1%, 1-year prevalence 76.0%, and lifetime prevalence 85.5%. A substantial minority had severe (Grade II, 8.0%) or disabling back pain (Grade III-IV, 11.2%). Subjects with a low educational level reported substantially more disabling back pain. This variable was an important predictor for large cross-regional differences in the burden of back pain.
Conclusion: Back pain is a highly prevalent condition in Germany. Disabling back pain in this country may be regarded as part of a social disadvantage syndrome. Educational level should receive greater attention in future cross-regional comparisons of back pain.