Low back pain and neck pain topped U.S. health care spending in 2016 (the most recent year for which complete data are available), beating out 153 other health conditions, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March. It looked at payments by Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, and individuals (i.e., out-of-pocket expenses) over 20 years beginning in 1996.
Low back and neck pain accounted for $135 billion of spending in 2016, more than any other category. When combined with other musculoskeletal problems (such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and joint or limb pain), the total swelled to $380 billion, or 14 percent of all health care spending that year.
Other costly conditions were diabetes ($111 billion), ischemic heart disease ($89 billion), and falls ($87 billion). Health care spending now accounts for about 18 percent of the U.S. GDP, up from 13 percent in 1996.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.