In a questionnaire survey the prevalence of back pain in 163 helicopter pilots was compared to that in a control group of 297 non-flying air force officers who underwent the same pre-employment medical examination. Since pilots document their hours of flight in a personal flight log, an accurate estimate of the duration of exposure could be made. In addition, vibration levels of the helicopters were measured and an accumulative vibration dose was calculated for each pilot. 'Transient' back pain of a short duration was more frequent amongst the pilots compared to the control group, and the prevalence of 'chronic' back pain of a persistent nature was also higher amongst the helicopter pilots. Transient back pain seemed to be most strongly related to the average hours of flight per day, whereas chronic back pain was more closely related to total hours of flight or the accumulative vibration dose. A significant higher prevalence of this chronic back pain was observed only after 2000 hours of flight or a vibration dose of 400 m2h/s4. The observed health effects may be due to vibration or constrained posture but are most likely due to concomitant exposure to both factors.