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Notes on UK government back pain research

Two government reports are summarised below:

1: an incidence survey of 5,500 UK adults in 1998 by the Office for National Statistics , and

2: an evaluation of 15 car back supports using 50 back-pain sufferers in 1994 by the Medical Devices Agency .

1: The prevalence of back pain in Great Britain in 1998

  • In 1998, 40% of adults said they had suffered from back pain lasting more than one day in the previous 12 months.
  • 15% of back pain sufferers said they were in pain throughout the year
  • Nearly 40% of back pain sufferers consulted a GP for help; 10% visited a practitioner of complementary medicine (osteopaths, chiropractors and acupuncturists).
  • A third of back pain sufferers said that back pain had restricted their activity in the four weeks before the interview. Women and older people were more likely to report that back pain had restricted their activity than men and younger people.
  • 5% of back pain sufferers aged 16 to 64 in employment had taken time off work during the previous month because of back pain.
  • 13% of back pain sufferers aged 16 to 64 who said that they were unemployed in the previous month mentioned back pain as a reason why they were not in work.

2: Back rests and back supports for driver of cars

  • 15 commercially available back supports were tested over a 2-week period, by 50 back-pain sufferers.
  • All but two of the 15 supports were discarded by some subjects before the trial period was completed, because of discomfort or increased pain.
  • The best supports reduced symptoms for 60% of users.
  • All the supports made symptoms worse for at least one user.
  • Three supports gave no improvement in symptoms for any subject.
  • Only 26% of subjects - who were all back-pain sufferers - had tried a back support in their car before the trials.
  • All 50 subjects found at least one back support among the 15 that was successful in alleviating their back pain.


  1. Back pain is very prevalent, but can be helped by extra back support.
  2. Most people are not aware of this source of relief.
  3. Generally, back supports are not well designed, are uncomfortable or even painful, and fit a minority of people or none at all.
  4. A back support of the correct shape, size and consistency can make a contribution to the treatment of back pain.