30% of people with low back pain in Mexico need work incapacity

Low back pain is a common problem affecting 80 out of every 100 people and it increases on those that are obese. According to the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine, low back pain is defined as the painful syndrome located in the lumbar region with eventual irradiation to the gluteal region, the hips, or the distal part of the abdomen. When acute, this syndrome worsens caused by movements and in its chronic form solely by certain movements of the lumbar spine.

According to the WHO, it is the first cause of consultation globally (70%), where only 4% require surgery. When low back pain is not properly treated it can lead to frequent relapses and hinder the affected individual of getting back on his/her daily activities as it leads to long periods of incapacity.

Low back pain also comes with related costs in work incapacity. Approximately 30% of low back pain patients in Mexico need work incapacity. In the United Kingdom, absenteeism related to this disease is that of 13%, while in the United States it is of 33%. This shows the importance of knowing the national statistics as it is possible that work conditions change this variable.

Some risk factors that can lead to low back pain are:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Standing for long period of time
  • Lifting heavy things
  • Overweight or obesity
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Work stress
  • Improper posture
  • Unsafe actions in physical activities

Various research sustain that low back pain has a high prevalence in work activity. A longitudinal study was performed on 769 workers of seven retirement homes on the Netherlands that worked at least 10 hours per week. The study divided the workers in 9 different occupational groups: 129 nurses, 264 caretakers, 58 kitchen workers, 49 housekeepers, 14 transportation workers and technicians, 9 laundry workers, 38 therapists (physical), 146 office workers, and 62 general workers.

In said study, the incidences of 12 months for low back pain of 26%, prevalence of 12 months approximately twice as high, and recurrences of 12 months approximately thrice as the incidence numbers were observed. The physical load and psychosocial factors were not associated with low back pain manifestation during the following of a year, though these risk factors are associated with incidence and prevalence of low back pain.

The recommended treatment to relief low back pain is:

Rest: there is scientific evidence sustaining that prolonged rest does not improve diagnosis but it leads to physical shape atrophy.

Education: includes information on the treatment process and the habitual evolution of improvement on a short period of time.

Suppression of risk factors and activity modification: to suspend those activities that increase pain, perform activities that involve less effort, and not falling into inactivity.

Physical treatment: massage, thermotherapy, electrotherapy, traction, manipulation, and exercises (performing sessions of strengthening and stretching).

Pharmacological treatment: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, muscle relaxants, corticosteroids.

Your physician will try to adapt the best treatment or treatments for you. Do not try to self-medicate. The improper use of anti-inflammatories or painkillers can lead to worse pain on the long run. Always consult a health professional and follow the instructions that your physician recommends you.


Reviewers: Cassandra Saldaña Pineda (Knowledge Management Unit), Brenda Giselle Alvarez Rodriguez, and Perla Karime Olais Vega (Public Research Unit).


  • Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS)
  • World Health Organization (WHO)
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  • Diagnóstico, tratamiento y prevención de lumbalgia aguda y crónica en el primer nivel de atención. ISBN: 978-607-7790-90-7
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  • Article: Burdorf A, Jansen J. Predicting the long term course of low back pain and its consequences for sickness absence and associated work disability. Occup Environ Med. 2006;63(8):522-529.