Do Occupational Risks for Low Back Pain Differ From Risks for Specific Lumbar Disc Diseases?: Results of the German Lumbar Spine Study (EPILIFT)

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Study Design.A multicenter, population based, case-control study.Objective.The aim of the present analysis is to clarify potential differences in the “occupational risk profiles” of structural lumbar disc diseases on the one hand, and low back pain (LBP) on the other hand.Summary of Background Data.Physical workplace factors seem to play an important etiological role.Methods.We recruited 901 patients with structural lumbar disc diseases (disc herniation or severe disc space narrowing) and 233 control subjects with “low-back-pain.” Both groups were compared with 422 “low-back pain free” control subjects. Case history, pain data, neurological deficits, and movement restrictions were documented. LBP was recorded by the Nordic questionnaire on musculoskeletal symptoms. All magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, and X-rays were inspected by an independent study radiologist. The calculation of cumulative physical workload was based on a computer-assisted interview and a biomechanical analysis by 3-D-dynamic simulation tool. Occupational exposures were documented for the whole working life.Results.We found a positive dose-response relationship between cumulative lumbar load and LBP among men, but not among women. Physical occupational risks for structural lumbar disc diseases [odds ratio (OR) 3.7; 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 2.3–6.0] are higher than for LBP (OR 1.9; 95% CI 1.0–3.5).Conclusion.Our finding points to potentially different etiological pathways in the heterogeneous disease group of LBP. Results suggest that not all of the structural disc damage arising from physical workload leads to LBP.Level of Evidence: 4

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