• Clinical experts warn of a significant health crisis
  • 28% increase in people economically inactive due to neck and back issues
  • Almost 1 million people out of work

An increase in back and neck issues caused by obesity, an ageing population and a cultural shift towards remote working is causing a health crisis in the UK, according to leading medical professionals.

Official statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows a rise from 2.6 million to 2.9 million people suffering from back or neck problems since 2019, with about 995,000 classified as economically inactive due to these ailments.

However, many of those affected are struggling to access necessary treatments.

Prof Kamila Hawthorne, the chair of the Royal College of GPs and Britain’s most senior family doctor, expressed concern that back pain had become “an all too common condition, affecting millions”.

Hawthorne points to various factors, including prolonged work lives, chronic conditions, obesity, and delayed treatment seeking.

She also notes the impact of new work environments lacking proper equipment.

What are common neck and back problems?

Neck and back problems includea range of conditions that affect the muscles, nerves, bones, joints, or other structures in the back or neck region which can vary in severity, from mild discomfort to  chronic pain that significantly impacts daily life.

Common types of neck and back problems:

Physiotherapy, often a key solution for back or neck issues, faces a bottleneck due to NHS staffing shortages.

This delay leads people suffering from neck and back issues to endure prolonged pain which can cause additional health problems such as depression.

Emergency departments are increasingly encountering patients with back or neck pain, indicating the severity of the crisis.

An ONS representative suggests that demographic shifts, including an ageing ‘baby boomer’ population and pandemic-induced changes in work practices, might be contributing to this uptick.

This highlights the importance of a proactive approach to maintaining back and neck health, particularly in a remote working environment.

How can I prevent neck and back problems?

Healthcare professionals recommend specific exercises to prevent back and neck problems, especially for those working remotely:

  • Core strengthening: exercises like planks and pelvic tilts strengthen the core muscles which in turn provide better support for the back.
  • Flexibility: yoga and stretching exercises improve flexibility and reduce the risk of straining muscles.
  • Aerobic exercise: walking, jogging, cycling and swimming help to promote positive health and a healthy weight.
  • Posture: learning how to maintain proper posture s key to reduce strain on the neck and back.
  • Balance exercises: exercises like standing on one legcan help maintain and improve stability and reduce risk of falls.

Watch the video below for a family yoga exercise.

The pandemic has exacerbated these issues, leading to lengthy waiting lists for physiotherapy.

Ishmael Beckford, chair of council at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, stresses the urgent need for more physiotherapists, as evidenced by nearly 310,000 patients awaiting community musculoskeletal services.

Government expenditure on back pain-related benefits has tripled over the past two decades, with £1.4 billion allocated in 2022-23.

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