Disorders of breathing and continence have a stronger association with back pain than obesity and physical activity

Aust J Physiother. 2006;52(1):11-6. doi: 10.1016/s0004-9514(06)70057-5.


Although obesity and physical activity have been argued to predict back pain, these factors are also related to incontinence and breathing difficulties. Breathing and continence mechanisms may interfere with the physiology of spinal control, and may provide a link to back pain. The aim of this study was to establish the association between back pain and disorders of continence and respiration in women. We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of self-report, postal survey data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health. We used multinomial logistic regression to model four levels of back pain in relation to both the traditional risk factors of body mass index and activity level, and the potential risk factors of incontinence, breathing difficulties, and allergy. A total of 38,050 women were included from three age-cohorts. When incontinence and breathing difficulties were considered, obesity and physical activity were not consistently associated with back pain. In contrast, odds ratios (OR) for often having back pain were higher for women often having incontinence compared to women without incontinence (OR were 2.5, 2.3 and 2.3 for young, mid-age and older women, respectively). Similarly, mid-aged and older women had higher odds of having back pain often when they experienced breathing difficulties often compared to women with no breathing problems (OR of 2.0 and 1.9, respectively). Unlike obesity and physical activity, disorders of continence and respiration were strongly related to frequent back pain. This relationship may be explained by physiological limitations of co-ordination of postural, respiratory and continence functions of trunk muscles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Obesity / diagnosis
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Probability
  • Prognosis
  • Queensland / epidemiology
  • Respiration Disorders / diagnosis
  • Respiration Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Urinary Incontinence / diagnosis
  • Urinary Incontinence / epidemiology*
  • Women's Health