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

  • A. Van Nieuwenhuyse
  • A. Burdorf
  • G. Crombez
  • G. Verbeke
  • R. Masschelein
  • Ph. Mairiaux
  • G. F. Moens
  • The BelCoBack Study Group
Original Article



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.


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.


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.


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.


Low back pain Sick leave Psychosocial work environment Prospective Young workers 



The BelCoBack Study was supported by the Belgian Federal Office for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs (OSTC), projects PS/93/25, PS/12/26, PS/01/27.

The authors thank the other co-workers from the BelCoBack Study group for their contribution to data collection and data processing: D. Pirenne, E. Persijn, A. Leys, and L. Moors.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standard

The study protocol was approved by the Commission for Medical Ethics appointed by the College of Physicians n°117 at the External Service for Prevention and Protection at Work IDEWE, Leuven, Belgium. A written informed consent was given by all included employees prior to their participation in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Van Nieuwenhuyse
    • 1
    • 2
  • A. Burdorf
    • 3
  • G. Crombez
    • 4
  • G. Verbeke
    • 5
  • R. Masschelein
    • 2
  • Ph. Mairiaux
    • 6
  • G. F. Moens
    • 2
    • 7
  • The BelCoBack Study Group
  1. 1.Department of Public Health and SurveillanceScientific Institute of Public HealthBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Section of Occupational, Environmental and Insurance Medicine, Department of Public HealthKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Public Health, Erasmus MCUniversity Medical Center RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GhentGhentBelgium
  5. 5.Department of Public Health, Biostatistical CentreKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  6. 6.Occupational Health and Health Education Unit, Department of Public HealthUniversity of LiègeLiègeBelgium
  7. 7.External Service for Prevention and Protection at Work IDEWELeuvenBelgium

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