Objectives: This study attempts to construct valid indices for mechanical exposure of the shoulder-neck region with relation to the development of shoulder-neck pain in a 1-year perspective study of a general population.
Methods: A comprehensive questionnaire was presented to 14 556 subjects aged 45 or 65 years and repeated after 12 months. Twenty-four questions concerning positions, movements, and manual materials handling were registered on a 3-point impact scale. Musculoskeletal problems were reported on a slightly modified version of the Standardized Nordic Questionnaire for the Analysis of Musculoskeletal Symptoms. Test-retest stability after 2 weeks was calculated for 232 consecutive participants. Based on mechanistic theories, 4 exposure indices were formed. Another 5 constructs were obtained by factor analysis.
Results: All the indices showed good test-retest stability, and 5 of them had very good internal consistency. Due to overlaps between the indices, 2 indices stood out as having unique properties. One of them concerned mainly postures and the other dealt primarily with measured lifting. However, the latter was not related to the shoulder-neck pain outcome when adjusted for the posture index. The posture index showed an exposure-effect relationship with the outcome. The job titles implied a large degree of exposure misclassification.
Conclusions: The posture index is recommended as a mechanical exposure index for analyses of interaction with other possible determinants of shoulder-neck pain (ie, psychosocial factors). The use of such an index instead of job titles in large population studies will reduce the risk of misclassification.