Objective: To evaluate the current epidemiological evidence linking psychosocial work characteristics with low back pain.
Background: Psychosocial work characteristics have been widely evaluated as potential risk factors for low back injury. However, studies with different study populations and using various types of measures have had conflicting results.
Methods: This review is the most extensive to date, reviewing 66 articles that have provided empirical evidence about the relationship between psychosocial work characteristics and initial reporting of lower back pain. The studies are reviewed with an emphasis on certain methodological issues: controlling for potential confounding; timing of the data collection; and measurement of the exposures and outcomes.
Results: The results of this review suggest that controlling for potential confounding from occupational biomechanical demands had a large influence on the associations found between psychosocial work characteristics and lower back pain. In addition, the use of accurate and reliable measures for the occupational exposures (biomechanical and psychosocial) and the lower back pain outcomes appears to influence the strength of the associations found between psychosocial work characteristics and lower back pain.
Conclusion: Given the methodological concerns discussed in this review, it is difficult to draw strong causal inferences from this literature. However, it does appear that psychosocial characteristics are related to some lower back pain outcomes, and that employees' reactions to psychosocial work characteristics (e.g., job dissatisfaction and job stress) are more consistently related to lower back pain than are the psychosocial work characteristics themselves (e.g., work overload, lack of influence over work, quality of relationships with coworkers).
Relevance: This review attempts to identify and address methodological issues in the literature evaluating the relationship between psychosocial work characteristics and lower back pain. Implications for future research are presented.