Musculoskeletal complaints in The Netherlands in relation to age, gender and physically demanding work

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 1997;70(5):352-60. doi: 10.1007/s004200050229.


Objectives: This cross-sectional study was performed in order to elucidate the relationship of musculoskeletal complaints with age, gender and physically demanding work in the Netherlands.

Methods: Questionnaire data of male (n = 36756) and female (n = 7730) employees, gathered as part of periodical occupational health surveys among active workers in the Netherlands, were stratified for age, gender, and type of work demands. For each stratified group prevalence rates (PR) were calculated for complaints of the back, neck, upper and lower extremities. Moreover, prevalence rate differences (PRD) were estimated as an absolute effect measure of exposure to various types of physical work demands, with active employees in mentally demanding work acting as a reference population.

Results: Musculoskeletal complaints among workers in physically demanding occupations were found to increase with age for both sexes. For several complaints, substantially higher rates were reported for women than for men, with a relatively high number of complaints observed among the older female workers (around 40% for complaints of back, upper and lower extremities). Significant PRDs were present in particular for employees in heavy physically demanding occupations and in jobs with mixed mental and physical work demands.

Conclusions: With the ageing of the workforce in mind, these findings stress the need for implementation of preventive measures. Special attention towards the susceptible group of female employees, the elderly age groups in particular, seems justified. In order to clarify the combined effects of age and physical work demands on musculoskeletal complaints, additional studies are required.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / etiology
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Occupational Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physical Exertion
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors
  • Work