Influence of work related psychosocial factors and psychological distress on regional musculoskeletal pain: A study of newly-employed workers

E. Nahit, C. Pritchard, N. Cherry, A. J. Silman, Gary John MacFarlane

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Objective. To determine the influence of short term work related psychosocial factors (work demands, job control, and social support) and psychological distress on regional pain syndromes,

Methods, Newly employed workers were recruited from 12 occupational groups and information collected by questionnaire. Subjects indicated on a blank body manikin any low back, shoulder, wrist/forearm, or knee pain that had occurred during the past month and lasted more than one day. Data were also collected on work related psychosocial factors and on levels of psychological distress [using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ)I. The relationships between psychosocial factors and psychological distress and each area of pain were calculated as odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals. Adjustment was made for age, sex, and occupational group.

Results. 1081 subjects (median age 23; interquartile range 20-27) were recruited to the study shortly after commencing employment: 261 (24%) reported low back pain, 221 (20%) reported shoulder pain, 93 (9%) reported wrist/forearm pain, and 222 (21%) reported knee pain. High levels of psychological distress were associated with increased likelihood of pain, with a trend observed between scores on the GHQ and the odds of pain in each of the 4 sites. Those who perceived their work as stressful most of the time were more likely to report back (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.01-3.1) or shoulder pain (OR 1.9, 95% CI 1.02-3.4) than those who considered their work seldom stressful. Pace of work or job autonomy was less markedly related to pain at individual sites. Strong relationships were observed between psychological distress, job demands (stressful work, hectic work), low job control, and pain at multiple sites.

Conclusion. The study has shown that adverse work related psychosocial factors, in particular aspects of job demand and control, influence the reporting of regional musculoskeletal pain. This occurs even after only short term exposure. The odds of reporting these adverse exposures are increased when pain is reported at multiple sites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1378-1384
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Rheumatology
Issue number28
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • occupational groups
  • low back pain
  • upper limb pain
  • knee pain
  • psychosocial factors
  • epidemiology
  • CARE


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