Objective: To determine the extent to which job satisfaction predicts pain, psychological distress, and disability 6 months after an initial episode of low back pain (LBP).
Design: A longitudinal design was used to follow an inception cohort experiencing first-episode low back pain with assessment at 2 and 6 months after pain onset.
Setting: Urban medical center outpatient orthopedic clinic.
Patients: The consecutive sample was comprised of 82 men with initial-onset acute LBP (T6 or below, daily pain for 6 to 10 weeks).
Intervention: Usual orthopedic care.
Main outcome measures: The primary study outcomes were pain (Descriptor Differential Scale, Visual Analog Scales); disability (Sickness Impact Profile, Quality of Well-Being); and psychological distress (Beck Depression Inventory, Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire); predictor variables were orthopedic impairment (Waddell Physical Impairment Index) and job satisfaction (Job Descriptive Index, Work APGAR).
Results: Measures of job satisfaction, pain, disability, and psychological distress at baseline and 6 months after pain onset were separately reduced into factors using principle components factor analysis. In hierarchical multiple regression analyses, baseline job satisfaction significantly predicted variance in outcome scores at 6 months after pain onset, beyond the variance explained by control factors (demographics; baseline pain, mood, and disability; orthopedic impairment). Zero-order correlations between job satisfaction and orthopedic impairment were small and nonsignificant, suggesting that these two variables act independently in predicting outcome. Although type of work performed (desk work or work requiring light, moderate, or heavy lifting) and social position were correlated with job satisfaction at baseline, neither contributed to the prediction of outcome at 6 months.
Conclusions: Satisfaction with one's job may protect against development of chronic pain and disability after acute onset back pain and, alternatively, dissatisfaction may heighten risk of chronicity. Vocational factors should be considered in the rehabilitation of acute back injury.