Objectives: To investigate the prevalence of back pain in the German working population and the relationship between back pain and workplace stresses, lifestyle and social factors.
Methods: The first National Health Survey of the Federal Republic of Germany was carried out between October 1997 and March 1999. It comprised a representative epidemiological cross-sectional study of the working population, with a total sample of 3,488 persons between the ages of 18 and 69 years. The participants took part in a medical examination and answered a self-rating questionnaire. The relationship between subjective back pain and workplace stresses and social and lifestyle factors was investigated with bivariate tests and multiple logistical regression analyses.
Results: The 7-day prevalence for back pain in the German working population was found to be 34%, and the 1-year prevalence was 60%. The odds ratios were significantly higher in women, persons of lower socioeconomic status, married and depressed persons and non-athletes. Carrying heavy loads or maintaining a single working posture were the most significant work-related correlates of back pain, for members of both the female and male working population, while environmental stress and psychological stress correlated significantly with back pain in men only.
Conclusions: This study reports the first representative epidemiological prevalence data for back pain, and its correlates and potential risk factors, for the German working population. To reduce the negative impact of back pain the most promising behavioural and conditional prevention measures in the workplace would be to reduce carrying stress and to vary working posture. In addition, a more active, athletic lifestyle, plus the avoidance of being overweight, should provide an additional protective or preventive effect.