Tip of the iceberg: unveiling the impact on back disorders from cumulative physical job exposure and evaluating bias from the healthy worker effect using a nationwide longitudinal cohort study

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Abstract

Purpose: Longitudinal studies across various sectors with physically demanding jobs are notably absent in back disorder risk research. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between cumulative physical job exposure (PJE) and hospital-diagnosed back disorders among individuals in Denmark. To assess the healthy worker effect, we compared the cumulative risk estimate with results from a naive cross-sectional model ignoring PJE history. Methods: A nationwide longitudinal cohort study was conducted using Danish registers, encompassing individuals born between 1975 and 1978 and working in 1996. Cumulative PJE was measured with a 10-year look-back period for each year 2006–2017. PJE consisted of lower-body occupational exposures, including the total weight lifted, stand/sit ratio, and the frequency of lifting more than 20 kg per day from a job exposure matrix. Odds ratio for back disorders was estimated for each year and all years combined. Results: The results unveiled a significant 31% increase in the risk of hospital-diagnosed back disorders after 4 years of cumulative PJE. The lowest risk (7%) was observed for incident back disorders with 1 year of exposure, suggesting a healthy worker effect. Nevertheless, this risk is still significantly elevated. This cumulative estimate is fourfold the estimate from the 2006 naive cross section model. Conclusion: Our study clearly demonstrates an 31% increase in the risk of hospital-diagnosed back disorders with just 4 years of PJE over a 10-year period. Further, we find that cross-sectional studies strongly underestimate the risk of back disorders due to the healthy worker effect.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
Number of pages10
ISSN0940-6719
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26. Mar 2024

Keywords

  • Back disorder
  • Job exposure
  • Longitudinal study
  • Physical work
  • Register study

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