Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 2021;47(4):287-295    pdf full text


Combined ergonomic exposures and development of musculoskeletal pain in the general working population: A prospective cohort study

by Andersen LL, Vinstrup J, Sundstrup E, Skovlund SV, Villadsen E, Thorsen SV

Objective This study aimed to investigate the importance of combined ergonomic exposures at work for the development of musculoskeletal pain.

Methods Through four rounds (2012–2018) of the Work Environment and Health in Denmark Study, 18 905 employees of the general working population replied to a baseline and 2-year follow-up questionnaire. First, a k-means cluster analysis of seven ergonomic factors (back bending, arm above shoulders, lifting etc., from ‘never’ to ‘almost all the time’) identified nine naturally occurring clusters. Second, using a weighted survey regression model controlling for age, gender, survey year, education, lifestyle, influence at work, and pain intensity at baseline, we estimated development of pain intensity (0–10) in the neck-shoulder and low-back in these clusters. The largest cluster served as reference to the other clusters and was characterized by low ergonomic exposures.

Results Clusters characterized by multiple combined ergonomic exposures for a relatively high percentage of the working time showed the largest increase in neck-shoulder as well as low-back pain intensity from baseline to follow-up. However, clusters characterized by high exposure to a few specific ergonomic factors also increased pain significantly, eg, standing/walking combined with lifting/carrying or twisted/bent back for the majority of the working time increased low-back pain, whereas repetitive arm movements for the majority of the working time with or without standing/walking increased neck-shoulder pain.

Conclusion Combined occupational ergonomic exposures play an important role in the development of musculoskeletal pain. Workplace preventive approaches should consider this in risk assessments and organization of the work.

This article refers to the following texts of the Journal: 2017;43(3):269-278  2017;43(6):526-539  2017;43(1):68-74  1994;20(1):65-66