Get Fit to Fight Low Back Pain
What causes low back pain? In a society plagued by back problems, that's a million dollar question. So far, research has shown different risk factors for low back pain based on work, lifestyle, and health. In this study, the authors followed a group of factory workers for two years to see whether they developed low back pain. A comparison was also made of the workers who ended up with back pain, to try to identify possible causes of low back pain.

One hundred forty-nine workers from a factory in Canada participated in this study. The participants were mostly men who worked as spinning operators. This job involves running machines that prepare fibers for weaving into fabric. The workers also had to lift more than 5,000 kilograms of nylon bobbins per shift, with each bobbin weighing between 4.5 and 12.7 kilograms. About half of the participants said they had felt low back pain at least one time in the two years before the study.

The participants did a series of physical tests that measured the strength of their backs, legs, and abdominals. Special sensors were used to record how fast participants could bend down and straighten up at the waist and to measure the strength of their spine muscles. Participants also filled out a questionnaire about their work, health, and lifestyle.

Every six months for the next two years, participants were asked whether they had any low back pain. Of the 149 participants, 82 (55 percent) said they had low back pain at some point over the two years. However, they usually said their pain wasn't serious.

Based on the initial tests, the authors identified characteristics that seemed to lead to low back pain. Younger workers and those who were not physically active were more likely to develop low back pain. Workers who took more medications were more likely to have low back pain, as were those who didn't have someone close to talk to. Workers with weaker quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and spine muscles were more likely to have pain, as were those who couldn't move their trunks up and down very quickly.

Research has shown that people with a history of low back pain are more likely to have low back pain in the future, but this did not hold true in this study. Job stress and job satisfaction were not related to low back pain, and neither were lifting techniques.

The authors conclude that many factors can lead to low back problems. Given the results of this study, physical fitness may be factory workers' best defense against low back pain.
Joan M. Stevenson, PhD, et al. A Longitudinal Study of the Development of Low Back Pain in an Industrial Population. In Spine. June 15, 2001. Vol. 26. No. 12. Pp. 1370-1377.