News | July 2, 1999

100 Million Workdays Lost to Work-Related Back Pain

Work is breaking the backs of Americans. Back pain is the cause of more lost workdays than any other medical complaint, other than the common cold. Back injuries are the number one culprit for workers' compensation claims.

Of the 149.1 million workdays lost every year as a result of back pain, 101.8 million (68%) were the result of work-related pain. Two studies in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health found that not only are work-related back injuries expensive, but they could be triggered by more than just physical labor.

Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and National Cheng Kung University conducted the study "Back Pain Prevalence in U.S. Industry and Estimates of Lost Workdays." They write: "The magnitude of the back-pain problem is so large that even a one percent reduction in overall prevalence could considerably reduce morbidity and save billions of dollars."

They reported that for men, the lumber and construction industries involved the highest risk of back injuries; construction had the most lost time cases. Nursing and personal care facility workers were the highest risk professions for women; hospitals had the most cases of lost-time injuries. For both sexes, grocery stores and agricultural production were ranked among the top 10 high-risk occupations.

The authors conclude, "it is important to pursue a national strategy to minimize work-related back pain" and suggest that "future research and intervention efforts should be focused on high-risk jobs among both male and female workers."

In the second study, researchers found that high job strain was the most important factor contributing to back injury. The worker's body mass index and work movements (lifting, bending, reaching, twisting) also contributed to the risk of back injury.

"Back Injury in Municipal Workers: A Case-Control Study" was conducted over 13 months between 1990 and 1991 among 200 injured workers for the city of Baltimore. Researchers say the results of the study suggest that giving workers greater control over the decision-making for their work and more control over their work environment could help prevent low-back injury.

The researchers concluded: "All of the risk factors for low back injury identified in this study are modifiable, with the exception of age."