A Cross-Sectional Study of Risk Factors for Musculoskeletal Symptoms in the Workplace Using Data From the General Social Survey (GSS)

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Assessments of potential risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from large, national study populations using personal interviews are critical to our understanding of exposure-response relationships. To address this need, we analyzed two outcome measures—self-reported back pain and upper extremity pain—from the quality of work life (QWL) module of the General Social Survey (GSS). We investigated several individual, psychosocial, and physical factors for their relationship to these outcome measures.


The study population included US adults, noninstitutionalized, English-speaking, aged 18 years or older, and employed at least part time (≥20 hr/wk). Final sample size was 1484 workers.


Variables of physical exposure significantly increased the risk of both low back pain and upper extremity pain. Multiple injuries and some psychosocial factors were associated with MSDs, and there was an additive effect on risk of MSDs with exposure to both physical exposure and work stress.


A relationship between physical loads and musculoskeletal disorders was indicated by the results, which will enable creating a database for tracking reports of MSDs in the US working population.

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