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Chronic Back and Neck Pain in America 2015 Survey Results

Results of SpineUniverse’s National
Survey of Pain Patients
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Practical Pain Management’s sister Website, conducted a survey of patients in the United States who self-reported having back or neck pain for at least 3 months. The results of that survey are quite interesting. 

Composite of Survey Responders

To start with, 606 adults from 48 states completed the survey. The majority of responders were women (66%, n=402); 204 men participated in the survey or 34% of the total. Nearly 91% selected Caucasian as their race. Roughly half indicated they live in a suburban setting (47%) and 29% in cities and 23% in rural areas.  Other features of the responders included:

  • 82% (n=497) do not smoke
  • 76% (n=459) know being overweight can cause or contribute to low back pain
  • 43% (n=260) do not drink alcohol and 32% (n=195) seldom drink
  • 35% (n=210) exercise 3 times per week. 

The fact that chronic back pain is a leading cause of disability was reflected in answers provided to specific questions:

  • 31% (n=190) indicated they are collecting disability for their back problem and no longer working.
  • 21% (n=129) have gone onto disability during the past 5 years.
  • 26% (n=160) filed for disability during the past 5 years.

Many people work despite their chronic back pain. The results showed 23% (n=123) work full-time, and approximately 30% (n=179) are retired. Sadly, 17% (n=103) had to take early retirement during the previous 5 year time period. Of everyone surveyed (n=606), 36% (n=216) lost a job because of chronic back or neck pain.

Causes of Chronic Back or Neck Pain

Participants were asked to tell what they thought caused their chronic spine pain. They were allowed to make multiple choices from more than 10 potential causes. Out of 654 responses, the potential causes of back pain included: growing older (38%), work-related injury (29%), back surgery (21%), and “runs in family” (21%).

SpineUniverse was interested to know if people taking the survey had other medical or mental health-related conditions besides chronic back or neck pain. It was not surprising to see that depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure ranked highest. It is well-known that up to 50% of individuals with chronic pain have depression and experiencing pain can cause elevated blood pressure.

The results also confirm that chronic back and neck pain can be complex and challenging to treat—and patients appear to be willing to go to great extents to find an accurate diagnosis.

Neck Pain

Roughly half (n=294) of the 606 people who participated in survey indicated they have chronic neck pain.  Not surprisingly, pain is not the only symptom reported. The survey participants indicated chronic neck pain made many activities unenjoyable and/or difficult to perform. The list included: working, carrying a purse or briefcase, housekeeping, concentrating, reaching for things, playing sports, and exercising. Two activities that jumped out at us were specifically:

  • Disrupted/poor sleep: 80% (n=236)
  • Less sexual enjoyment: 35% (n=103)

Primary care physicians and pain management specialists were the leading prescribers of pain medications (including opioids, anti-inflammatory agents, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, sleeping and anxiety medications), while neurosurgeons and orthopaedic spin surgeons recommend surgery. Click here for a full reporting of the survey results on neck pain.

Mid Back Pain

Mid back pain, that is pain felt in and around the thoracic spine, was self-reported by 86% (n=166 of 194) people. Similar to other survey responders, these patients indicated they have been living with chronic mid back pain for at least 3 months.

Pain was the foremost symptom reported among the 194 people with a thoracic spine condition who participated in this section of the survey. Patients reported feeling pain in the upper back (52%), up/down the middle of the back (76%), on one or both sides of the body (51%), and in the front of the body (14%). However, like other spinal disorders, we see their pain was accompanied by many different symptoms. Most responders noted that their symptoms limited activities,  with sleeping problems led the list.

Treatment Options

The majority of physicians who prescribed pain medications were pain management specialists (45%, n=62) and primary care physicians (36%, n=49). Orthopaedic surgeons (4%, n=6), neurosurgeons (4%, n=6), and physiatrists (6%, n=8) were other physician categories that prescribed pain drugs.

Compared to patients who received a recommendation for neck or low back/sacral surgery, the number of thoracic patients was much lower. Here, 11% (n=20 of a total of 186) reported, “ever having mid back surgery,” while 14% (n=26) indicated their doctor recommended surgery to treat chronic mid back pain. About 15% (n=4 of 26) indicated they underwent another thoracic surgery to revise a previous procedure.

Of 26 patients, 39% (n=10) sought a second opinion, while 31% (n=8) did not because they trust their doctor’s recommendation. Another 31% (n=8) did not seek a second opinion for “other” reasons. Revisiting the 10 survey respondents who sought a second opinion, who did they choose to perform their thoracic surgery? Almost 57% (n=15) decided against having surgery, while 36% (n=9) went with the first surgeon, and 7% (n=2) selected the second opinion surgeon.

Click here for a full reporting of the survey results on mid back pain.

Low Back Pain

The number of people self-reporting chronic low back and/or sacral (ie, lumbosacral) pain represented the majority of the 606 people who participated in the SpineUniverse survey. A total of 546 patients (94%) indicated they had been living with chronic low back/sacral pain for at least 3 months.

Regarding sacroiliac joint pain and related symptoms, survey takers were asked if their doctor examined them for SI joint dysfunction. Of 309 responders, 52% (n=160) chose “Yes,” 18% (n=55) chose “No,” and 30% (n=94) indicated they did not know.

Treatment Options

The majority of physicians who prescribed pain medications were pain management specialists (41%, n=174) and primary care physicians (38%, n=163). Orthopaedic surgeons (6%, n=27), neurosurgeons (5%, n=22), and physiatrists (4%, n=18) were other physician categories that prescribed pain medications.

Approximately 51% (n=293 of a total of 576) reported, “ever having low back/sacral surgery,” while 44% (n=257) indicated their doctor recommended surgery to treat chronic back pain. About 37% (n=96 of 257) indicated they underwent another lumbar and/or sacral surgery to revise a previous procedure.

Last updated on: February 9, 2016
First published on: January 1, 2016
Continue Reading:
Guide to Chronic Pain Assessment Tools