Does physical activity buffer insomnia due to back and neck pain?

PLoS One. 2017 Sep 20;12(9):e0184288. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184288. eCollection 2017.


Introduction: Musculoskeletal pain is highly prevalent and a burden to society, recurrent and persistent low back pain (LBP) and neck pain (NP) being the most common conditions. They are associated with other poor health outcomes such as sleep problems. Physical activity (PA) prevents LBP and NP, but the direct effect on sleep is unclear. This study explored the effect of pain on insomnia, and examined if adherence to moderate-to-high intensity levels of PA influenced this relationship.

Methods: In this prospective observational study, 1821 workers were followed over 3 years. Data included self-rated measures of LBP and NP, insomnia and level and amount of PA. Pain variables were used in a "risk profile" for future sick-listing, insomnia was categorized into those with and without such problems, and adherence to PA was defined as reporting moderate-to-high levels in two consecutive years. In Poisson regression models, individuals with pain risk profiles were analysed according to PA adherence for the outcome insomnia. Repeated measurements allowed control for prior pain.

Results: In this mainly male working population, individuals with a risk profile for LBP and NP had a significant increased risk (RR = 1.5) of developing insomnia one year later when not adhering to moderate-to-high levels of PA. Among those not reporting prior pain, the risk was even larger (RR = 2.5). Generalizability may be restricted to relatively healthy males. The individuals who reported a pain risk profile two consecutive years did not get the buffer effect from adhering to moderate-to-high levels of PA in terms of developing insomnia.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / complications
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis*
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / complications
  • Neck Pain / diagnosis*
  • Neck Pain / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / epidemiology
  • Workplace

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.