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Heavy lifting by young workers can cause back problems in midlife

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Young adults whose jobs involve heavy lifting have a higher risk of developing back pain in later life, according to a Finnish study.

Tea Lallukka from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and colleagues surveyed 738 men and women in 1986, when they were aged between 18 and 24, and again 20 years later.

The researchers wanted to find out whether heavy physical workload in young adulthood increases the risk of local and radiating low back pain in midlife.

Participants in the study were asked whether they had done any heavy, medium or little to no heavy physical work as young adults. They were also asked whether, in middle age, they had suffered back pain lasting more than one week during the previous year.

Reporting on the findings, Reuters Health said that up to 36% of all participants reported localised lower back pain, and about 20% reported radiating lower back pain.

There was no significant link between heavy physical work and localised low back pain. However, the likelihood of radiating back pain in middle age was more than double for men who did heavy physical work as young adults, compared to men whose jobs had involved little to no physical work.

For women, the risk of radiating low back pain was doubled in those who reported at least medium physical work and quadrupled in those who had done heavy work, compared to those who did little to no physical work.

In the study, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the researchers concluded:

“Physically heavy work at a young age can have a long-lasting effect on the risk of low back pain, radiating low back pain in particular. These results highlight the need to consider early and persistent exposures to prevent the adverse consequences of physical workload for the low back.”