Low back pain (LBP) is the most prevalent health problem in Switzerland and a leading cause of reduced work performance and disability. This study estimated the total cost of LBP in Switzerland in 2005 from a societal perspective using a bottom-up prevalence-based cost-of-illness approach. The study considers more cost categories than are typically investigated and includes the costs associated with a multitude of LBP sufferers who are not under medical care. The findings are based on a questionnaire completed by a sample of 2,507 German-speaking respondents, of whom 1,253 suffered from LBP in the last 4 weeks; 346 of them were receiving medical treatment for their LBP. Direct costs of LBP were estimated at <euro>2.6 billion and direct medical costs at 6.1% of the total healthcare expenditure in Switzerland. Productivity losses were estimated at <euro>4.1 billion with the human capital approach and <euro>2.2 billion with the friction cost approach. Presenteeism was the single most prominent cost category. The total economic burden of LBP to Swiss society was between 1.6 and 2.3% of GDP.