Why are nearly 3 million UK people suffering from back and neck problems?

The most recent figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that 2.9 million people had problems linked to their back or neck, up from 2.6 million in 2019. 

Teladoc health UKUnfortunately for both the sufferer, employee, and society, neck and back pain is an all-too-common affliction that affects so many in the UK. The burden on the economy is that about 995,000 economically inactive individuals between January and March of 2023, up 28% during the same period in 2019. The government spent 1.4bn on people with back pain in 2023 via disability living allowance (DLA), and its successor benefits the person independent payment (Pip). Additionally, the NHS spends 4.76bn on MSK conditions such as back pain each year. 

Cost aside, the burden of suffering from persistent neck and/or back pain is one of the leading causes of disability. Lower back pain accounts for 960,132 YLDs, and Neck pain for 370,075 YLDs. YLDs (Years lived with disability) is a measure that combines the prevalence of a disease with a rating of how disabling that disease is. 

Lower back is the leading cause of years lived with disability. This underscores the profound impact back and neck pain can have on individuals, families, and society. 

MSK conditions are the 3rd most common reason for working days lost, only behind ‘Other’ (including COVID-19) and ‘Minor Illnesses’. MSK conditions remain the second most common diagnosis on fit notes written by GPs in England after mental health conditions in 2021 and 2022. 

So why is there an increase in the prevalence and impact of neck and back pain? 

It appears complicated. The ONS suggests that demographic shifts, including an ageing ‘baby boomer’ population and pandemic-induced changes in work practices, might contribute to this uptick. It is certainly likely to be multifaceted and complex. 

One striking aspect of the report is the association between back and neck pain and socioeconomic factors. It elucidates how individuals in certain demographic groups, such as those with lower income or education levels, are disproportionately affected by neck and back pain. This disparity underscores the need for targeted interventions and equitable access to healthcare services for all population segments.

The importance of a holistic approach

However, the ONS report underscores the importance of a holistic approach to managing back and neck pain. Physiotherapy is at the forefront of this, and with staff shortages in the NHS, long wait times for Physiotherapy have exacerbated the issue. Addressing underlying risk factors and promoting preventative measures are equally important. Encouraging regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, practicing regular movement breaks, and implementing ergonomic work environments are among the key preventive strategies that can mitigate the onset and severity of back and neck pain.

Additionally, the report underscores the need for greater awareness and education regarding back and neck health. Empowering individuals with knowledge about proper body mechanics, ergonomic principles, and self-care strategies can empower them to take proactive steps in managing their spinal health.

The ONS report poignantly reminds us of the profound impact of back and neck pain on individuals and society at large. By addressing the underlying determinants, promoting preventive measures, and enhancing awareness and education, we can work towards alleviating the burden of this prevalent condition. 

Our Virtual Physiotherapy service can help your customers, policyholders, or employees with back or neck pain without the need for a GP referral.  



Author: Will Kenton, Head of Physiotherapy, Teladoc Health UK


Latest Blogs

Send Us A Message

Opinion PDF's

Please enter your email for instant download.