Prevention of low back pain: basic ergonomics in the workplace and the clinic

Baillieres Clin Rheumatol. 1992 Oct;6(3):705-30. doi: 10.1016/s0950-3579(05)80134-7.


Redesigning the job is a strategy for preventing low back injuries at work or for accommodating injured employees who return to work. An evaluation of the physical job demands is necessary in either strategy. Several job demands are associated with low back pain and injury--heavy physical work, static or postural effort, dynamic work-load and exposure to wholebody vibration. Traditional work measurement studies emphasize a rigorous task analysis. By adding biomechanical, physiological and psychophysical measurements, a comprehensive evaluation is possible. There is no standard scheme for a workplace evaluation. The method depends on the end use of the analysis. Job evaluation for workplace design requires an emphasis on equipment and work conditions; evaluation for placement of injured employees should emphasize the operational demands of the tasks. Few studies considered the multifactorial aetiology of low back pain. Most studies that measured the magnitude of biomechanical, physiological and psychophysical stresses attempted to define peak work-loads. The attempt to evaluate the effects of subacute cumulative traumas is only in the beginning. Most ergonomic intervention programmes modify the loads, the design of objects handled, lifting techniques, workplace layout and task design. The effectiveness of these interventions in controlling medical costs or morbidity has not been clearly demonstrated. Consequently, occupational risk factors may be more important for evaluating disability. Job familiarity is the key to effective medical management. Ergonomic analysis procedures may be useful within rehabilitation settings that also provide placement services. The reason is that they facilitate communication between all elements involved in the rehabilitation process. Proper communication procedures are also crucial in implementing ergonomic interventions in the workplace. A health care provider should be part of a task force that oversees these interventions. Future effort should be directed to finding a method that health care practitioners could be competent to carry out effectively in a clinical setting. Expert systems offer promising results in disseminating ergonomic knowledge in primary and secondary health care facilities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Ergonomics*
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / complications
  • Low Back Pain / prevention & control*
  • Models, Biological
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Workload
  • Workplace