Study Ties Physical Workload, Childhood Poverty, and Back Pain

Physical workload and socio-economic status are two factors that have been previously been shown to effect the likelihood of low-back pain. While some studies have demonstrated that workers with a high physical workload are more susceptible to pain in the low back, others have shown that a low socio-economic status (SES) also increases the risk of low-back pain (LBP) and recovery from it.

In a recent study published in the journal Spine, researchers in Denmark sought to understand how these factors were interrelated. The scientists considered that people who live in poverty as children often end up in jobs with higher physical workload in adulthood. They also cited a link between lower SES and LBP supported by another previous study. Complicating matters, too, is that other known risk factors for LBP such as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity have been shown to be more prevalent among lower SES groups. Childhood SES in particular has been shown to influence lifestyle in adulthood, higher physical job demands, and the risk of LBP.

Due to these links, the researchers hypothesized that low childhood SES would increase the vulnerability of LBP among people with high physical workloads.

The participants included women working in social care and health care professions. The study included data collection about childhood SES, physical workload on the job, and low-back pain.

The study results showed that as independent risk factors, both high physical workload and low childhood socio-economic status contributed to a higher prevalence of low-back pain. However, in contrast with their hypothesis, the study authors did not find that participants with lower childhood SES were more vulnerable to the effects of high physical workload compared to those with a higher SES in childhood. In other words, poverty in childhood did not predict a vulnerability to back pain from physical labor.

In their conclusion, the researchers pointed out that the risk factors of physical workload and low SES on LBP is still subject to controversy.


Jorgensen MB, et al. Independent effect of physical workload and childhood socioeconomic status on low back pain among health care workers in Denmark. Spine 2013; 28(6); E359-E366.