Study design: This was a stratified, random telephone survey of adults in North Carolina.
Objective: To determine the prevalence of chronic low back pain and the extent to which treatment is sought for this condition.
Summary of background data: Chronic low back pain is a major problem. Previous studies often have combined acute and chronic back pain.
Methods: Telephone interviews regarding back pain were conducted with 4437 North Carolina adults during 1992.
Results: Chronic back pain affects 3.9% of the North Carolina population. Thirty-four percent considered themselves permanently disabled and 52% assessed their overall health as fair or poor. The median number of bed-disability days per year was three. Seventy-three percent saw a health care provider. Of those who sought care, 91% saw a medical doctor, 29% saw a physical therapist, and 25% saw a chiropractor. Use of technology was extensive: 37% received a computed tomography scan, 25% received a magnetic resonance imaging scan, and 10.4% underwent surgery.
Conclusions: Chronic back pain is common, and the level of care-seeking and costs of care among those afflicted are extremely high.