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Back pain in Britain: comparison of two prevalence surveys at an interval of 10 years

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 10 June 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1577
  1. Keith T Palmer, clinical scientist (,
  2. Kevin Walsh, consultant geriatricianc,
  3. Holly Bendall, medical statisticiana,
  4. Cyrus Cooper, professor of rheumatologyb,
  5. David Coggon, professor of occupational and environmental medicinea
  1. a MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit, Community Clinical Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton SO16 6YD
  2. b MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit, Fetal Origins of Adult Disease, University of Southampton
  3. c Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Huntingdon PE18 8NT
  1. Correspondence to: D Coggon
  • Accepted 22 February 2000

Editorial by Croft

In Britain, as in many other countries, back pain is a major cause of disability, especially in adults of working age. During the decade to 1993, outpatient attendances for back pain rose fivefold, and the number of days of incapacity from back disorders for which social security benefits were paid more than doubled.1 It is unclear whether this represents an increase in the occurrence of diseases affecting the back or a change in people's behaviour when they have symptoms. To address this question we compared the prevalence of low back pain and associated disability in two postal surveys 10 years apart.

Subjects, methods, and results

Both surveys were approved by the relevant local ethics committees. The first was conducted during 1987-8 and obtained information from 2667 men and women randomly selected from the lists of 136 general practitioners in eight geographically dispersed locations in Britain (59% …

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