Objective: To analyze the role that biomechanical strains and psychosocial work factors play in occupational class disparities in low-back pain in the GAZEL cohort.
Methods: Recruited in 1989, the GAZEL cohort members were employees of the French national company in charge of energy who volunteered to enroll in an annual follow-up survey. The study population comprised 1487 men who completed questionnaires in 1996 (past occupational exposure to manual material handling, bending/twisting, and driving), 1997 (psychosocial work factors), and 2001 (low-back pain using a French version of the Nordic questionnaire for the assessment of low-back pain). Associations between low-back pain for >30 days in the preceding 12 months and social position at baseline (four categories) were described with a Cox model to determine prevalence ratios for each category. We compared adjusted and unadjusted ratios to quantify the contribution of occupational exposures.
Results: The prevalence of low-back pain for >30 days was 13.6%. The prevalence of low-back pain adjusted for age was significantly higher for blue-collar workers and clerks than for managers. The number of socioeconomic disparities observed was significantly reduced when biomechanical strains were taken into account; adjusting for psychosocial factors had little impact.
Conclusion: In this population, occupational exposures--especially biomechanical strains--played an important role in occupational class disparities for persistent or recurrent low-back pain.