Objectives: To assess the association between leisure time physical activity and musculoskeletal morbidity, as well as possible interactions with physical activity at work.
Methods: A literature search was performed to collect all studies on musculoskeletal disorders in which physical activity was involved as a variable. Next, an analysis was made of questionnaire data on a group of 2,030 workers in various occupations, on self-reported physical activity in leisure time and at work, musculoskeletal symptoms (from low back, neck-shoulder and lower extremity) and sick leave due to these symptoms. A logistic regression analysis was carried out to estimate the association between musculoskeletal morbidity and four physical-activity indices (participation in sports and sedentary activities, active life style, sedentary life style), adjusted for age, gender, education and work load. Interaction of leisure activities with age and work load was tested too.
Results: Available literature data (39 studies) showed inconsistent results. Most studies did not show any effects. Some studies indicated favourable effects of physical activity, both on low back and neck pain. Participation in some vigorous sports seemed associated with unfavourable effects. The empirical data showed no association between participation in sports and/or other physical activities in leisure time and musculoskeletal symptoms. Sedentary activity in leisure time was associated with higher prevalence rates of low back symptoms and sick leave due to low back symptoms.
Conclusions: Stimulation of leisure time physical activity may constitute one of the means of reducing musculoskeletal morbidity in the working population, in particular in sedentary workers.