Physical work demands and psychosocial working conditions as predictors of musculoskeletal pain: a cohort study comparing self-reported and job exposure matrix measurements

Occup Environ Med. 2018 Oct;75(10):752-758. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2018-105151. Epub 2018 Jul 25.


Objectives: Determining exposure to occupational factors by workers' job titles is extensively used in epidemiological research. However, the correspondence of findings regarding associations to health between job exposure matrices (JEMs) and individual-level exposure data is largely unknown. We set out to examine the prospective associations of physical work demands and psychosocial working conditions with musculoskeletal pain, comparing JEMs with individual-level self-reported exposures.

Methods: We analysed data of 8132 participants from the Work Environment and Health in Denmark cohort study. Using random intercept multilevel modelling, we constructed age-specific and sex-specific JEMs estimating predicted exposures in job groups. We analysed associations between working conditions (individual and JEM level) at baseline and musculoskeletal pain at follow-up using multilevel modelling stratified by sex, adjusting for age, education and baseline pain.

Results: Any consistent associations present in the individual-level analysis were also found in the JEM-level analysis. Higher pain levels at follow-up was seen for employees with higher baseline physical work demands, women exposed to violence and men with lower decision authority, whether measured at the individual or JEM level. Higher JEM-level quantitative demands were associated with less pain, but no association was seen at the individual level.

Conclusions: We found predominately comparable prospective associations between working conditions and pain, whether using JEMs or individual level exposures, with the exception of quantitative demands. The results suggest that, with few notable exceptions, findings obtained using JEMs may be comparable with those obtained when using self-reported exposures.

Keywords: ergonomics; longitudinal studies; musculoskeletal; organisation of work; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Denmark
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multilevel Analysis
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / etiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / psychology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Violence / psychology
  • Workplace / psychology*
  • Young Adult