Is insufficient quantity and quality of sleep a risk factor for neck, shoulder and low back pain? A longitudinal study among adolescents


The quantity and quality of adolescents’ sleep may have changed due to new technologies. At the same time, the prevalence of neck, shoulder and low back pain has increased. However, only a few studies have investigated insufficient quantity and quality of sleep as possible risk factors for musculoskeletal pain among adolescents. The aim of the study was to assess whether insufficient quantity and quality of sleep are risk factors for neck (NP), shoulder (SP) and low back pain (LBP). A 2-year follow-up survey among adolescents aged 15–19 years was (2001–2003) carried out in a subcohort of the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986 (n = 1,773). The outcome measures were 6-month period prevalences of NP, SP and LBP. The quantity and quality of sleep were categorized into sufficient, intermediate or insufficient, based on average hours spent sleeping, and whether or not the subject suffered from nightmares, tiredness and sleeping problems. The odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for having musculoskeletal pain were obtained through logistic regression analysis, adjusted for previously suggested risk factors and finally adjusted for specific pain status at 16 years. The 6-month period prevalences of neck, shoulder and low back pain were higher at the age of 18 than at 16 years. Insufficient quantity or quality of sleep at 16 years predicted NP in both girls (OR 4.4; CI 2.2–9.0) and boys (2.2; 1.2–4.1). Similarly, insufficient sleep at 16 years predicted LBP in both girls (2.9; 1.7–5.2) and boys (2.4; 1.3–4.5), but SP only in girls (2.3; 1.2–4.4). After adjustment for pain status, insufficient sleep at 16 years predicted significantly only NP (3.2; 1.5–6.7) and LBP (2.4; 1.3–4.3) in girls. Insufficient sleep quantity or quality was an independent risk factor for NP and LBP among girls. Future studies should test whether interventions aimed at improving sleep characteristics are effective in the prevention and treatment of musculoskeletal pain.

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This study was partly funded by the Ministry of Education, Academy of Finland (grant 200868), the Research Foundation of the Institute of Sports, Finland (Urheiluopistosäätiö), the Juho Vainio Foundation, the Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation and the Orion Corporation Research Foundation. The authors acknowledge Professor Simo Näyhä from the University of Oulu and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health for his valuable comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Juha P. Auvinen.

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Auvinen, J.P., Tammelin, T.H., Taimela, S.P. et al. Is insufficient quantity and quality of sleep a risk factor for neck, shoulder and low back pain? A longitudinal study among adolescents. Eur Spine J 19, 641–649 (2010).

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  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Adolescent
  • Sleep
  • Risk factors
  • Prospective study