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More autonomy at work reduces risk of low back pain

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Around 80% of adults experience low back pain at some point in their life. Physical factors such as incorrect posture, sitting for long periods or lifting objects incorrectly can lead to back pain — but a new study has found that other factors such as workload, job control and social support also play a part.

A team of psychologists from Technische Universität Dresden, working with experts from health sciences and Germany’s Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, investigated psychological and social work factors that pose a risk for the development of chronic low back pain (CLBP), defined as unspecific pain in the lumbar region lasting three months or longer.

The analysis included more than 19,000 data sets from 18 studies which explored associations between psychosocial areas of work life and CLBP. The findings have been published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.

“People with a high workload suffered more frequently from chronic low back pain. Employees with more job control were less affected,” said social psychologist Dr Anne Tomaschek. “It was also shown that back pain was lower when people received social support at work from their superiors and colleagues.”

The study provides a basis for the development of prevention programmes in the workplace, added Dr Denise Dörfel, postdoc at the Chair of Work and Organisational Psychology.

“A redesign of working conditions could reduce pain-related absenteeism. Flexible breaks, more autonomy in scheduling the work, all this reduces the workload,” the psychologist explained. “Social support from colleagues and more feedback and recognition from superiors may also help.”