Low Back Pain Characteristics From Undergraduate Student to Working Nurse in Australia: A Cross-Sectional Survey

Document Type

Journal Article


Computing, Health and Science


Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science




This article was originally published as: Mitchell, T., O'Sullivan, P., Burnett, A. F., Straker, L., & Rudd, C. J. (2008). Low Back Pain Characteristics From Undergraduate Student to Working Nurse in Australia: A Cross-Sectional Survey. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 45(11), 1636-1644. Original article available here


Background : Nurses are known to be a high risk group for occupational low back pain (LBP). The periods of greatest risk for developing low back pain in this population are not well defined. Recent literature suggests current preventative strategies are not consistently effective in improving low back injury statistics among health care populations. Objectives: To identify the relative contributions of age and occupational exposure on the prevalence, duration and severity of low back pain episodes among undergraduate nursing students and recently graduated nurses. Design: Cross-sectional survey. Settings: Two university undergraduate nursing schools and one public teaching hospital graduate nurse training program in Western Australia. Participants : 897 undergraduate nursing students (years 1, 2 and 3) and 111 graduate nurses recruited by personal invitation during lectures. Methods : Using a modified version of the Nordic Low Back Questionnaire, information regarding low back pain episode prevalence, impact, duration, frequency and causes was obtained. Results : Mean age was consistent across all groups (26.7 ± 9.0 years) and had no significant effect on lifetime low back pain prevalence (p = 0.30). Very high lifetime (79%), 12 month (71%) and 7 day (31%) low back pain prevalence rates were consistent across all 3 year groups of undergraduate nursing students, but were significantly higher after 12 months of full-time employment [lifetime (95.5%), 12 month (90%) and 7 day (39%)]. Around 60% of all respondents with low back pain utilised at least one of (a) treatment, (b) medication, or (c) a reduction in activity. Nursing students and graduate nurses attributed the majority of their low back pain to bending or lifting despite recent efforts to reduce manual workplace demands (lifting) on nurses. Strategies for managing low back pain differed between nursing students and graduate nurses. Conclusions : These results may suggest a rise in occupational exposure from student to working nurse is the primary cause of the increase in low back pain. Increased exposure may be to physical as well as psychological stressors. Given that prevalence rates are very high prior to commencing work, nursing student populations should be a target group for low back pain preventative strategies.


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