Does work stress make you shorter? An ambulatory field study of daily work stressors, job control, and spinal shrinkage

J Occup Health Psychol. 2013 Oct;18(4):469-80. doi: 10.1037/a0034256.


Body height decreases throughout the day due to fluid loss from the intervertebral disk. This study investigated whether spinal shrinkage was greater during workdays compared with nonwork days, whether daily work stressors were positively related to spinal shrinkage, and whether job control was negatively related to spinal shrinkage. In a consecutive 2-week ambulatory field study, including 39 office employees and 512 days of observation, spinal shrinkage was measured by a stadiometer, and calculated as body height in the morning minus body height in the evening. Physical activity was monitored throughout the 14 days by accelerometry. Daily work stressors, daily job control, biomechanical workload, and recreational activities after work were measured with daily surveys. Multilevel regression analyses showed that spinal disks shrank more during workdays than during nonwork days. After adjustment for sex, age, body weight, smoking status, biomechanical work strain, and time spent on physical and low-effort activities during the day, lower levels of daily job control significantly predicted increased spinal shrinkage. Findings add to knowledge on how work redesign that increases job control may possibly contribute to preserving intervertebral disk function and preventing occupational back pain.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Height*
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / anatomy & histology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Spine / anatomy & histology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Young Adult