Risk factors for back-pain disability

Train workers on proper body mechanics

Workers who are obese, current or former smokers, use analgesics frequently, or have neck, shoulder, or back pain are at higher risk of disability due to low-back disorders, according to a new study.1 The study included an analysis of data from a large group of Finnish twins.

One approach is to target the potentially modifiable factors of musculoskeletal pain, smoking, and obesity in younger workers to help reduce their lifelong risk of disability related to low back disorders, suggests Annina Ropponen, PhD, the study's lead author and a researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio.

Early recognition of decreased functional ability is important, both in individual employees and the overall employee population. "Early care of any chronic conditions, and of musculoskeletal pain, may help to avoid long periods of disability," she says.

Gail Bruce, RN/COHN, an employee health nurse at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, LA, says that she's noticed that employees who aren't using proper body mechanics when lifting are the ones that usually get injured. "We are going to put into practice a more comprehensive back safety program, as well as aggressive education for post-back injury to prevent another injury," she reports.

Low back disorders are very prevalent, says Carol Parks, RN, BSN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, a senior staff specialist for health services at PPL Corporation in Allentown, PA. "They are one of the leading causes of lost work productivity and disability," notes Parks, who offers these strategies to reduce risk of back injuries:

• Conduct a Health Risk Assessment.

These can identify lifestyle factors that increase a worker's risk of back injury, such as smoking, being overweight, having poor nutrition and poor stress management. On the other hand, workers who maintain a healthy weight are at lower risk for injury and are more likely to recover more quickly from a back injury. "Workers with pre-existing back problems are at greater risk for disability," adds Parks.

• Train workers on proper body mechanics. Conduct pre-shift stretching exercises, and discuss proper lifting techniques at safety meetings.

• Engage workers in preventative programs. "This will reduce back injuries, workers' compensation claims and lost work days and productivity," says Parks.


1. Pietikäinen S, Silventoinen K, Svedberg Pia, et al. Health-related and sociodemographic risk factors for disability pension due to low back disorders: A 30-year prospective Finnish twin cohort study. J Occup Environ Med. 2011; 53(5):488-96.


For more information on reducing risks of back injuries, contact:

• Gail Bruce, RN/COHN, West Jefferson Medical Center, Marrero, LA. Phone: (504) 349-1882. Fax: (504) 349-2459. E-mail: gail.bruce@wjmc.org.

• Carol Parks, RN, BSN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, Health Services, PPL Corporation, Allentown, PA. Phone: (570) 542-3474. Fax: (570) 542-3142. E-mail: ciparks@pplweb.com.

• Annina Ropponen, PhD, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio. E-mail: annina.ropponen@uef.fi.