Early work-related physical exposures and low back pain in midlife: the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study

Occup Environ Med. 2017 Mar;74(3):163-168. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2016-103727. Epub 2016 Aug 11.


Objective: To examine whether heavy physical workload in young adulthood increases the risk of local and radiating low back pain (LBP) in midlife.

Methods: Longitudinal nationally representative Young Finns Study data among women (n=414) and men (n=324), aged 18-24 years in 1986 (baseline), were used. Physical heaviness of work was reported at baseline and follow-up (2007), and local and radiating LBP at follow-up. Covariates were age, smoking and body mass index. Logistic regression was used to examine the associations between physical heaviness of work and LBP. Additionally, the mediating effect of back pain at baseline was examined (the Sobel test).

Results: After adjustment for the covariates, and as compared with sedentary/light physical workload, heavy physical workload was associated with radiating LBP among women (OR 4.09, 95% CI 1.62 to 10.31) and men (OR 2.01, 95% CI 1.06 to 3.82). Among men, early back pain mediated the association (p value from the Sobel test=0.006). Among women, early exposure to physically heavy work showed the most consistent associations, while early and late exposures were associated with radiating and local LBP among men. Persistently heavy physical work was associated with radiating LBP among women and men.

Conclusions: Physically heavy work at a young age can have a long-lasting effect on the risk of LBP, radiating LBP in particular. These results highlight the need to consider early and persistent exposures to prevent the adverse consequences of physical workload for the low back.

Keywords: local low back pain; physical workload; prospective; radiating low back pain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Low Back Pain / etiology*
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Physical Exertion* / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Smoking
  • Workload*
  • Young Adult