This is an interesting article in The Economist (18th January 2020) about the cost and medicalisation of back pain in Western society. It explains that only about 5 – 15% of people suffering with back pain have a definitive cause for their back pain (eg fracture, infection, tumour) and the rest are labelled as ‘non-specific’ back pain.
A lot of money is spent on treating back pain and this costs appear to be rising; in the US $88 billion was spent on back pain treatments in 2013 compared to $115 billion on cancer treatment. However the article quite rightly suggests that most people with back pain do not need medical or surgical treatment and should be encouraged to exercise more. It focuses on the healthcare economies in the UK, Australia, USA and Netherlands despite the UK being the only country of these with a free national health service. As a result back pain alone without leg pain (sciatica) is rarely treated surgically in England as per the NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) and NHS England guidelines and so the comparison between these countries was not very useful.
In summary the article concluded that back pain is both very common and is very costly to the UK economy due to lost days at work, sick pay, benefits, medical investigations and that exercise and a change in attitude is helpful. It was an interesting article and worth a read!