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Low Back Pain among Workers: The Problem and What to Do About It

Posted on by Kristen Iker, MPH and CAPT Sara E. Luckhaupt, MD, MPH

Are you a worker who is experiencing low back pain?  You aren’t alone! A recently published article from NIOSH reports that more than 1 in 4 (26%) working adults experience low back pain.

Some groups of workers have more pain than others. For example, workers in construction occupations are more likely to experience low back pain than those in other occupations. And, workers 45-64 years old have more pain than younger workers.

The findings, laid out in the Annals of Internal Medicine, explore data from the National Health Interview Survey and highlight the need to prevent low back pain- a condition affecting almost 40 million U.S. workers.



If you’d like to further explore the data we have available on back pain and other health problems among workers, check out our Worker Health Charts application.

More about the problem:

Of all workers with back pain, 20% were told by a health professional that their pain was work-related.  This is likely an underrepresentation of work-relatedness as the majority of workers did not discuss with their healthcare provider whether their pain might be work-related at all.

If work factors are not considered, occasional low back pain can develop into a more serious problem. Physical job demands, poor supervisory support and job dissatisfaction may contribute to back pain, and an early diagnosis and intervention can be key to a full recovery.

Regardless of cause, low back pain can affect a person’s ability to perform work tasks. Between 6 and 10% of workers stopped working, changed jobs, or made a major change in work activities because of their low back pain.


What can be done?

Addressing workplace factors that contribute to low back pain can potentially reduce symptoms and prevent worsening. But best of all, addressing low back pain as part of a workplace prevention strategy can prevent additional workers from developing pain in the first place.

Have you ever heard the phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Well, NIOSH has a webpage for exactly this. Check out these resources on preventing musculoskeletal disorders among workers to learn more about how workplaces can help prevent or reduce back pain among workers.

We’d like to hear from you!

What are some ways your workplace prevents or addresses low back pain? Leave a comment below!


Kristen Iker, MPH, is a health communication specialist in the World Trade Center Health Program and a former ORISE Fellow in the NIOSH Division of Field Studies and Engineering. 

CAPT Sara E. Luckhaupt, MD, MPH, is a Team Leader in the NIOSH Division of Field Studies and Engineering.



Posted on by Kristen Iker, MPH and CAPT Sara E. Luckhaupt, MD, MPH

8 comments on “Low Back Pain among Workers: The Problem and What to Do About It”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    It is not about developing low back pain (LBP), this is a normal course of aging, a congenital condition, the degeneration,wear and tear process, an occupational hazard. Since the onset of LBP is not a control able process, the next best opportunity is to introduce Physical Abilities Testing (PAT) to ensure safe hiring, on boarding and safe placement.

    Post-Offer Employment Testing is good for business and the community. A Post-Offer Employment Test is a physical assessment given to a prospective employee after a formal job offer has been made by the employer. To be hired, the candidate must pass the physical assessment, which tests whether he or she can perform the physical demands of the job in a safe manner. No one desires to see anyone injured on the job. Over-exertion along with accompanying fatigue are among the most relevant causations of work-related incidents. It makes sense to hire persons who can perform the quantified physical demands of the job for safe placement and good job match. Specialization and experience in high risk manual materials/patient handling, this is not an FCE/FCA. Proper employee selection is appropriate for high risk manual materials/patient handling in fulfillment centers and retail stores.

    Understanding the employment laws that pertain to hiring and employment practices include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Age Discrimination Act of 1967, Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures – 1978, Americans With Disabilities Act 1992, 2008/2011 and The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), U.S. Department of Labor.

    Thank you for your comment and your interest in our study. Assessing the relationship between work physical demands and the development of low back pain (LBP) is complex and to some degree unclear (Leclerc, 2016). Because LBP has been associated with many factors involving personal, workplace, physical and psychosocial factors, teasing out the main contributor of LBP in workers is difficult. There is still a debate among some researchers regarding the effect of work physical demands on the development of LBP (Garg et al., 2007). A comprehensive review of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace by the National Research Council (2001), however, has demonstrated that a number of factors contribute to LBP. This review serves as one of the major sources of guidance for NIOSH research on the prevention of occupational LBP. Functional capacity evaluations such as pre-placement testing have not been shown to be an effective method for injury prevention (Pransky and Dempsey 2004). Hiring workers with increased physical capabilities to fit jobs that require high physical demands may present a long-term problem because it is difficult to hire people that can sustain high physical demands without developing injuries. Pre-placement testing of newly hired workers may be required by law for some jobs, as pointed out by your comment. Employers should ensure that any such medical examinations are conducted consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. 12101 et. seq. (ADA), as well as applicable state and local laws. Proper ergonomic job design that fits the physical capabilities of most workers will go a long way toward protecting workers’ safety, health and well-being.

    Thank you for the resources. Can we include children kindergarten to high school I incorrectly carrying backpacks 2-3x their size and wt? What are they carrying if so much is online.

    Great information. Our research team has recently published a research article:
    J Family Med Prim Care. 2018 Nov-Dec;7(6):1185-1192. doi: 10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_262_18.
    Development of a return to work tool for primary care providers for patients with low back pain: A pilot study.
    Cruz LC, Alamgir HA, Sheth P, Nabeel I.
    This study showed that PCPs with access to the RTW guidelines in an EMR-integrated tool were significantly more likely to make such recommendations.

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