Work and back pain: a prospective study of psychological, social and mechanical predictors of back pain severity

Eur J Pain. 2012 Jul;16(6):921-33. doi: 10.1002/j.1532-2149.2011.00091.x. Epub 2011 Dec 21.


Studies relating occupational psychological and social factors to back pain have traditionally investigated a small number of exposure factors. The current study explored longitudinally a comprehensive set of specific psychological/social and mechanical work factors as predictors of back pain severity (defined as the product of back pain intensity and duration). Employees from 28 organizations in Norway, representing a wide variety of occupations, were surveyed with a follow-up period of 2 years. Several designs were tested: (1) cross-sectional analyses at baseline and follow-up; (2) prospective analyses with baseline exposure; (3) prospective analyses with average exposure over time [(T1+T2)/2]; and (4) prospective analyses with measures of change in exposure from T1 to T2. A total of 2808 employees responded at both time points. Fourteen psychological/social and two mechanical exposures were measured. Odds ratios (ORs) were computed by ordinal logistic regressions. Several psychological/social factors predicted back pain severity. After adjustment for age, sex, skill level, back pain severity at T1 and other exposure factors estimated to be potential confounders, the most consistent predictors of back pain were the protective factors decision control [lowest OR 0.68; 99% confidence interval (CI): 0.49-0.95], empowering leadership (lowest OR 0.59; 99% CI: 0.38-0.91) and fair leadership (lowest OR 0.54; 99% CI: 0.34-0.87). Some of the most important predictors included in this study were factors that have previously received little attention in back pain research. This emphasizes the importance of extending the list of factors possibly contributing to back pain.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Back Pain / epidemiology*
  • Back Pain / prevention & control
  • Back Pain / psychology*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index*