Sickness absence and concurrent low back and neck-shoulder pain: results from the MUSIC-Norrtälje study

Eur Spine J. 2007 May;16(5):631-8. doi: 10.1007/s00586-006-0152-6. Epub 2006 Jun 2.


In Sweden, musculoskeletal disorders, in particular low back disorders (LBD) and neck-shoulder disorders (NSD) constitute by far the most common disorders, causing sick leave and early retirement. Studies that compare sickness absence in individuals with LBD and individuals with NSD are lacking. Moreover, it is likely that having concurrent complaints from the low back region and the neck-shoulder region could influence sickness absence. The purpose of the present study was to explore potential differences in sickness absence and in long-term sickness absence during a 5-year period, 1995-2001, among individuals with (1) solely LBD, (2) solely NSD, and (3) concurrent LBD and NSD. The present study was based on 817 subjects from the MUSIC-Norrtälje study, whom were working at baseline and whom at both baseline and follow-up reported LBD and/or NSD. Three groups were identified based on pain and pain-related disability at both baseline and follow-up: (1) solely LBD, (2) solely NSD, and (3) concurrent LBD and NSD. Subjects who did not give consistent answers at both the baseline and follow-up occasions were assigned a fourth group: (4) migrating LBD/NSD. Two outcomes were analysed: (1) prevalence of sickness absence, and (2) long-term sickness absence among those with sickness absence days. Logistic regression analysis was used to calculate odds ratios (OR) for sickness absence in the different disorder groups, taking into account confounding factors such as gender, age and other non-musculoskeletal-related disorders. In the group concurrent LBD and NSD, 59% had been sickness absent between baseline and follow up, compared to 42% in the group solely LBD, 41% in the group solely NSD, and 46% in the group migrating LBD/NSD. No difference in sickness absence was found between the group solely LBD compared to the group solely NSD [OR 0.65 (0.36-1.17)]. The adjusted OR for sickness absence in the group concurrent LBD and NSD compared to subjects with solely LBD or solely NSD was [OR 1.69 (1.14-2.51)]. The adjusted OR for having long-term sickness absence was 2.48 (95% CI = 1.32-4.66) for the group concurrent LBD and NSD. In the present study, having concurrent LBD and NSD were associated with a higher risk for sickness absence and also long-term sickness absence. This suggests that, when research on sickness absence and return to work after a period of LBD or NSD is performed, it is important to take into consideration any concurrent pain from the other spinal region. The study also implies that spinal co-morbidity is an important factor to be considered by clinicians and occupational health providers in planning treatment, or in prevention of these disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Neck Pain / epidemiology
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Shoulder Pain / epidemiology
  • Sick Leave / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sweden / epidemiology