Trends in diagnosis of painful neck and back conditions, 2002 to 2011

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Neck and back pain are pervasive problems. Some have suggested that rising incidence may be associated with the evidence of rising prevalence.

To describe the trends in diagnosis of painful neck and back conditions in a large national healthcare system.

A retrospective observational cohort study to describe the incidence and prevalence of diagnosis of neck and back pain in a national cohort.

Patients were identified by International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision (ICD-9) codes in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national utilization datasets in calendar years 2002 to 2011.

Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data. Prevalent cases were compared with all veterans who sought health care in each year. Incident cases were identified following a 2 years clean period in which the patient was enrolled and received care, but not services for any back or neck pain conditions.

From 2004 to 2011, 3% to 4% of the population was diagnosed with incident back pain problems, the rate increasing on average, 1.75% per year. During the same period, 12.3% to 16.2% of the population was diagnosed with a prevalent back pain problem, the rate increasing on average 4.09% per year.

In a national population, the prevalence rate for diagnosis of neck and back pain grew 1.8 to 2.3 times faster than the incidence rate. This suggests that the average duration of episodes of care is increasing. Additional research is needed to understand the influences on the differential rate of change and to develop efficient and effective care systems.

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