Study design: Cross-sectional study with retrospectively assessed work determinants.
Objective: To study the association between the history of physically demanding work and sciatica, among the occupationally active, and among persons of working age who are not occupationally active.
Summary of background data: Few studies have examined the association of physically loading work with sciatica, and studies concerning women are scarce.
Methods: A nationally representative sample of The Health 2000 survey comprised 4811 Finns aged 30 to 64, which we further stratified into 2 groups based on working status during the preceding 12 months. The diagnosis of sciatica was based on characteristic symptoms and a standardized clinical examination by physicians trained for the purpose. Life-long exposure to physically demanding work tasks was assessed retrospectively by interview.
Results: A total of 3.8% of working subjects and 7.9% of nonworking subjects had sciatica; men more often than women. In the multivariable logistic regression models, a history of physically demanding work in general was associated with sciatica among men. The risk increased with the length of exposure for the first 20 years (OR: 1.85; 95% CI: 1.17-2.91 for 1-10 years and 2.67; 1.61-4.43 for 11-20 years of exposure), but decreased thereafter. When analyzing manual handling of heavy objects, bending, and kneeling separately, odds ratios for these factors were high for both working and nonworking men. However, they remained at the borderline of statistical significance among working men. None of the physical work exposures were associated with sciatica among working women, whereas a long history of handling heavy objects and bending were related to sciatica among nonworking women.
Conclusion: Physically demanding work in general is a risk factor for sciatica among men. Sciatica may be a significant cause of premature health-related selection out of the heavy work among both genders.