Study design: Population-based, cross-sectional, mailed survey.
Objectives: To determine the lifetime, 6-month period, and point prevalence of low back pain and its related disability among Saskatchewan adults and to investigate the presence and strength of selective response bias.
Summary of background data: There have been many reports of the prevalence of low back pain in different populations, and the estimates vary widely depending on case definition. However, most studies fail to differentiate between trivial and disabling back pain, which raises the issue of the usefulness of these estimates. No studies have yet documented the prevalence of graded low back pain severity and its related disability in a North American, general, population-based survey.
Methods: The Saskatchewan Health and Back Pain Survey was mailed to a probability sample of 2184 Saskatchewan adults between 20 and 69 years of age. Fifty-five percent of the eligible population responded to the survey. Respondents were compared with nonrespondents, and the presence of selective response bias by back pain status was investigated by wave analysis. The point and lifetime prevalence of low back pain was determined by simple questions, and the 6-month period prevalence of low back pain was determined by the Chronic Pain Questionnaire. All estimates were age standardized to the Saskatchewan population.
Results: The authors estimate that at the time of the survey 28.4% (95% confidence interval, 25.6-31.1) of the Saskatchewan adult population were experiencing low back pain, and 84.1% (95% confidence interval, 81.9-86.3) had experienced it during their lifetime. Overall, 48.9% (95% confidence interval, 45.9-52.0) of the population had experienced low intensity/low-disability low back pain in the previous 6 months, 12.3% (95% confidence interval, 10.3-14.4) had experienced high-intensity/low-disability low back pain, and an additional 10.7% (95% confidence interval, 8.8-12.5) had experienced high-disability low back pain in the previous 6 months. There was little variation in the estimates over age groups, but women experienced more high-disability back pain than men. There was no evidence of selective response bias by low back pain status in the survey.
Conclusion: Low-intensity/low-disability low back pain is a common problem in the general population. Approximately 11% of the adult population studied had been disabled by low back pain in the previous 6 months.