For Doctors - Back and neck pain: does age (and work) make a difference?

Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde

Professor Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde outlines key findings based on the study of 40,000 Danes.

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Confidence interval    Prevalence

Written summary of the studies and links to full text of the studies

Study 1

Pain in the lumbar, thoracic or cervical regions: do age and gender matter? A population-based study of 34,902 Danish twins 20–71 years of age

Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde, Jan Nielsen, Kirsten O Kyvik, René Fejer and Jan Hartvigsen

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2009, 10:39doi:10.1186/1471-2474-10-39

In general

  • At least 55% of the study sample reported to have had pain in at least one spinal area in the past year.
  • Fifty percent of those with spinal pain in the past year, reported pain in one area only, and this was the most common finding.
  • Spinal pain in the past year was most commonly reported as LBP (43%), closely followed by NP (32%) and, far behind, by MBP (13%).
  • The radiating pain pattern had a similar anatomical hierarchy, with leg pain being most common (22%), followed by arm pain (16%), and, rarely, chest pain (4%).
  • The "ever" and "past year" curves had very similar profiles for all 3 spinal regions.
  • In the past year, pain for 8–30 days was most common, followed by pain for >30 days, whereas pain for 1–7 days was least common.

In relation to age

  • Pain in more than one area peaked at the ages of 35–45.
  • In relation to pain ever and pain in the past year, the curves of LBP and NP resembled each other in that they peaked around the middle years, whereas the curves for MBP were flatter.
  • The curves for radiating pain were similar to those for the area from which the pain radiated.
  • There was a positive association between age and number of days with pain in the past year, regardless of the area of pain, and the increase was gradual.

In relation to gender

  • Pain in more than one region was more common in women than in men.
  • Women as compared to men were more likely to report spinal pain, regardless of the area of the spine, and the difference was most marked for NP.
  • Women were also more likely than men to report radiating pain, regardless the area.
  • Women were more likely than men to have had pain for 8 days or more.


Study 2

Consequences of spinal pain: Do age and gender matter? A Danish cross-sectional population-based study of 34,902 individuals 20-71 years of age.  

Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde René Fejer, Jan Nielsen, Kirsten O Kyvik and Jan Hartvigsen

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2011, 12:39doi:10.1186/1471-2474-12-39

In summary

  • Almost two-thirds of individuals with spinal pain did not report any consequence.
  • Care seeking and reduced physical activities were the most commonly reported consequences, followed by sick-leave, change of work and disability pension.
  • Consequences due to LBP were more often reported than consequences due to MBP and NP.

In relation to age

  • Overall, no dramatic age effect was found for any of the spine areas in relation to any of the consequences.
  • There was a small mid-life peak for care-seeking and a slow general increase in reduced activities with increasing age, whereas sick-leave and change of work did not show any age-related differences.
  • Typically the duration of sick-leave was 1-7 days, but from the age of 50 the sick-leave period of 8-30 days became more prevalent.
  • Sick-leave of >30 days remained relatively uncommon throughout all ages.
  • Disability pension was extremely uncommon before the age of 50.

In relation to gender

  • Generally, women somewhat more often than men reported some kind of consequence as well as longer periods of sick-leave.

Published 04 October, 2011