It is usually assumed that musculoskeletal pain is associated with both the physical workload and the psychosocial work environment, as well as with personal and lifestyle factors. This study aims to ascertain the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain in women with varying or different occupational exposures, and to explore the associations between musculoskeletal pain and the occupational and personal factors.
A questionnaire on physical, psychosocial and individual factors was answered by 1591 women in five occupational groups with contrasting occupational exposures (teachers, anaesthetic, theatre, and assistant nurses, and sonographers). The outcome measure was musculoskeletal pain (in a new model based on frequency and intensity of complaints the preceding year) from the neck, shoulders, hands, lower back and feet.
Neck pain was equally frequent among teachers, assistant nurses and sonographers, and less frequent in anaesthetic and theatre nurses. The sonographers experienced the highest prevalence of shoulder pain, while the assistant nurses were the most affected in the wrists and hands, lower back, and feet. The teachers reported the highest scores in most of the psychosocial dimensions. The theatre nurses scored highest in strenuous work postures and movements (mechanical exposure index, MEI), and the assistant nurses in physical activity and lifting (physical exposure index, PHYI). Multivariable models in the total population showed that both the physical workload and the psychosocial work environment were associated with pain in all body regions, though different factors affected different regions. Pain in the neck, shoulders, hands and lower back was strongly associated with a high MEI and high job demands, while pain in the feet was associated with a high PHYI and a high BMI. A young age was associated with pain in the neck, and an older age was associated with pain in the hands and feet. Lack of time for personal recovery was associated with pain in the shoulders and lower back.
The occupational groups were affected differently and need different protective measures. For the teachers, the psychosocial work environment should be improved. The surgical staff and sonographers require measures to mitigate lifting and constrained postures.