Is undergraduate physiotherapy study a risk factor for low back pain? A prevalence study of LBP in physiotherapy students

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2003 Oct 9:4:22. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-4-22.


Background: Following reports of high prevalence of low back pain (LBP) in young physiotherapists, we investigated whether LBP was a problem for undergraduate physiotherapy students.

Method: Physiotherapy students enrolled in one Australian tertiary institution completed a validated self-administered questionnaire in April 2001, seeking information on LBP prevalence (lifetime, 12 month, one-month, one-week), and its risk factors. The survey incorporated the Nordic back questionnaire, questions on common risks for LBP, and purpose-built questions regarding educational exposures. Univariate logistic regression models were applied to test associations.

Results and discussion: 72% students responded. LBP prevalence was 69% (lifetime), 63% (12-month), 44% (one-month), 28% (one-week). The risk of LBP increased significantly for students once they completed first year. Being aged 20 or 21 years (final year students) was significantly associated with all measures of LBP, compared with the youngest students. Exposure to tertiary study of greater than two years was associated with lifetime, 12 month and one-month LBP prevalence. Spending more than 20 hours in the past month 'sitting looking down' was significantly associated with one-month LBP prevalence. Similar exposure to 'treating patients' was significantly associated with one-month and one-week LBP prevalence.

Conclusions: Physiotherapy students should be alerted to the likelihood of LBP and is potential causes during their training, so that they enter the workforce with reduced risk of LBP. The potential for other undergraduate students to suffer LBP should also be considered.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Low Back Pain / etiology*
  • Male
  • Physical Therapy Specialty / education*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities