SWITZERLAND — The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken a significant step in combating low back pain, a condition afflicting an estimated 619 million people worldwide, with its release of pioneering guidelines.

Crafted to elevate the quality of care for millions affected, the guidelines present healthcare professionals with a repertoire of non-surgical treatments tailored for primary and community care settings.

Notably, the guidelines caution against certain treatments, including lumbar braces, traction-based therapies, and opioid painkillers.

As the global population ages, the prevalence of low back pain is anticipated to surge, reaching an estimated 843 million individuals by 2050.

Currently contributing to 8.1% of years lived with disability globally, low back pain has been identified by WHO as the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage and Life Course, underscores the imperative nature of addressing low back pain to achieve universal health coverage.

Chronic low back pain, affecting nine out of ten cases, significantly impacts patients’ ability to work and engage in family and social life, leading to broader economic and mental health consequences.

The guidelines prioritize mental health care as a crucial element in treating these conditions, recognizing the profound impact on individuals and society.

At the national level, chronic low back pain poses substantial economic repercussions, forcing individuals out of the workforce and straining health systems.

The annual global costs associated with this condition exceed US$50 billion, potentially reaching up to US$100 billion, with a disproportionate impact on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where heavy labor constitutes the majority of employment.

The multifaceted approach outlined in the WHO guidelines includes patient education in self-care techniques, structured exercise programs, spinal manipulative therapy, and massage.

Simultaneously, the guidelines caution against certain treatments such as traction and therapeutic ultrasound.

WHO officials stress the adaptability of the guidelines to local clinical practices as essential for effective implementation.

Recognizing chronic low back pain as a national health priority is emphasized by WHO as a crucial step for optimizing healthcare management in this critical area – a step yet to be taken by many countries.

“Addressing chronic low back pain requires an integrated, person-centered approach,” highlights Banerjee. “This means considering each person’s unique situation and the factors that might influence their pain experience.”

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