Original Article

International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health

, Volume 86, Issue 8, pp 887-899

First online:

Sick leave due to back pain in a cohort of young workers

  • A. Van NieuwenhuyseAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health and Surveillance, Scientific Institute of Public HealthSection of Occupational, Environmental and Insurance Medicine, Department of Public Health, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Email author 
  • , A. BurdorfAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam
  • , G. CrombezAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Ghent
  • , G. VerbekeAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health, Biostatistical Centre, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
  • , R. MasscheleinAffiliated withSection of Occupational, Environmental and Insurance Medicine, Department of Public Health, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
  • , Ph. MairiauxAffiliated withOccupational Health and Health Education Unit, Department of Public Health, University of Liège
  • , G. F. MoensAffiliated withSection of Occupational, Environmental and Insurance Medicine, Department of Public Health, Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenExternal Service for Prevention and Protection at Work IDEWE
  • , The BelCoBack Study Group

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Abstract

Purpose

Evidence on risk factors for sick leave from prospective studies in work settings is limited. Furthermore, most available studies focused on workers with substantial low back disorders. These studies consistently report that physical work factors constitute a hindrance to work. However, it remains unclear whether the same risk factors are relevant in workers with less severe conditions or in early phases of the development of back pain. Therefore, this article aims to study risk factors for the occurrence of sick leave due to low back pain (LBP) among young workers with no or a modest history of back pain.

Methods

Participants were 716 young healthcare or distribution workers with no or minimal antecedents of LBP in the year before inclusion. We investigated the role of potential physical, psychosocial and individual risk factors at baseline on the occurrence of sick leave due to LBP 1 year later. To this purpose, we used Cox regression with a constant risk period.

Results

Six per cent (95 % CI 4.1–7.6) of the workers reported sick leave 1 year later; they accounted for 12 % of the sick-leave days independent of cause. A non-stimulating psychosocial work environment turned out to be the strongest risk factor for sick leave due to LBP (RR 6.08; 95 % CI 1.42–26.07). Physical factors were not predictive.

Conclusions

In the early phases of back pain and in less severe conditions, the main benefit of interventions lies in targeting the organisation and design of jobs to create a challenging professional environment.

Keywords

Low back pain Sick leave Psychosocial work environment Prospective Young workers