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No. 1 cause of disability worldwide: Back pain

If you suffer from back pain, you're not alone. Nearly 1 in 10 people struggle with lower back pain. Low back problems are a major cause of disability in the U.S. - and throughout the world. In fact, they are the single largest cause of disability worldwide, a new study has found.

Researchers studied data on back pain from 117 studies involving 47 countries. They found that low back pain is the biggest reason for years lost due to disability, which they calculated by adding the years lost due to early death and the number of years a person lived with disability. As the world grows older, more people are living with the pain for a long time.

Part of the problem with back pain is the difficulty of treating it. Pain killers, heat and ice are often used. Sometimes opioid medications are used, but they come with a risk of addiction. Acupuncture is sometimes used. And often, exercise is an effective treatment. Ultimately, however, some people are simply unable to recover from low back pain. In fact, the study authors say that back pain deserves more attention from governments and researchers.

Whether the cause is a herniated disk, degenerative disk disease, other spinal problems or unknown reasons, back pain can be more than a minor irritation. It can be completely and permanently disabling. In these cases, Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income can provide a financial lifeline.

Source: Time, "This Is the No. 1 Cause of Disability Worldwide," Alexandra Sifferlin, March 25, 2014 

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