Biopsychosocial Factors are Associated with Low Back Pain in Female Nurses

Document Type

Journal Article


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science / Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research




Mitchell, T., O'Sullivan, P., Smith, A., Burnett, A. F., Straker, L., Thornton, J., & Rudd, C. J. (2009). Biopsychosocial Factors are Associated with Low Back Pain in Female Nurses. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 46(5), 678-688. Available here


Background: Occupational low back pain is a significant problem among nurses. Recent literature suggests current occupational preventative strategies for nurses have not been effective. Given low back pain is already prevalent before commencing employment, nursing students should be the target of preventative interventions. Modifiable personal factors which contribute to low back pain have proven difficult to identify, but are thought to play an important role in the biopsychosocial nature of low back pain. Objectives: To evaluate the contribution of personal biopsychosocial factors to low back pain in nursing students. Design: Cross-sectional study comprising physical testing and questionnaires. Settings: Two university undergraduate nursing schools in Western Australia. Participants: 170 female undergraduate nursing students. Methods: Low back pain and control subjects were compared across social, lifestyle (physical activity), psychological (stress, anxiety, depression, back pain beliefs, coping strategies and catastrophising) and physical (spinal postures and spinal kinematics in functional tasks, leg and back muscle endurance, spinal repositioning error and cardiovascular fitness) characteristics. Low back pain was considered as either ‘‘minor’’ or ‘‘significant’’ depending upon pain severity, duration, impact and level of disability. Results: Over 30% of all subjects (mean age 22.5 4.5 years) reported ‘‘significant’’ low back pain inthepreceding12months.Univariate analysis: socialmeasures didnot distinguish between groups. Subjects with ‘‘significant’’ low back pain were more physically active (p = 0.04), had higher stress scores (p = 0.01) and used passive coping strategies (p < 0.001) more than other subjects. ‘‘Significant’’ lowback pain subjects held their lower lumbar spine in amore extended posture during transfers at bed height than other subjects. No differences between groups were found for sagittal spinal mobility, static spinal posture, muscle endurance, spinal repositioning error, ardiovascular fitness or other psychological measures. Multivariate analysis: regression analysis revealed stress, coping, physical activity, spinal kinematics, and age all contributed independently to the presence of low back pain, representing a significant 23% of variance. Conclusions: Modifiable lifestyle, psychological and physical factors were independently associated with low back pain in nursing students. Targeting personal factors associated with low back pain in nursing students, rather than occupational factors in working nurses may help improve the impact of low back pain in nurses. Prospective studies are required to confirm the relevance of these findings for risk of future low back pain in nurses.




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