Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Public Health and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Low back pain in 17 year olds has substantial impact and represents an important public health disorder: a cross-sectional study

Peter B O'Sullivan12, Darren J Beales1, Anne J Smith12 and Leon M Straker12*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Physiotherapy and Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, Curtin University, GPO Box U1987, Perth, WA 6845, Australia

2 Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:100  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-100

Published: 5 February 2012



Prevalence of low back pain (LBP) rises rapidly during adolescence, reaching adult levels by the age of 18. It has been suggested that adolescent LBP is benign with minimal impact, despite limited evidence.


The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of LBP and the influence of chronicity, gender and presence of other spinal pain comorbidities at age 17. Subjects (n = 1283) were categorised according to experiencing current and chronic LBP, gender and presence of other areas of spinal pain. LBP impact was ascertained via questions regarding seeking professional assistance, using medication, missing school/work, limited normal or recreational physical activity and health related quality of life (HRQOL).


12.3% of participants reported current but not chronic LBP, while 19.9% reported current chronic LBP. LBP was more commonly reported by females than males. Other spinal pain comorbidities were common in the LBP groups. Impact was greater in subjects with chronic LBP, in females and in those with other spinal pain comorbidities.


LBP, and particularly chronic LBP, has a significant negative impact at 17 years. It is commonly associated with care seeking, medication use, school absenteeism, and reduced HRQOL. These findings support that adolescent LBP is an important public health issue that requires attention.