Study: More independence at work reduces risk of lower back pain

DRESDEN, Germany — For many people, their boss or manager can be a real pain. While that is usually just a figure of speech, a new study out of Germany finds that micromanagement at work may legitimately lead to lower back pain. Researchers at the Technische Universität Dresden have concluded that a variety of psychosocial on-the-job factors, such as workload, level of autonomy, and social support, can contribute to the development of chronic lower back pain.

A staggering 23% of the global population deal with chronic lower back pain. For office workers, lower back pain is often associated with unhealthy or unnatural sitting habits, slouching over, or just plain staying seated for hours on end. In light of these new findings, though, it seems much more than physical factors are at play when it comes to the development of chronic lower back pain.

The research team synthesized more than 19,000 data sets from 18 prior studies that had investigated any possible connections between psychosocial factors and back pain. The ensuing results revealed “robust” evidence of such an association.

“People with a high workload suffered more frequently from chronic low back pain. Employees with more job control were less affected. It was also shown that back pain was lower when people received social support at work from their superiors and colleagues,” explains social psychologist Dr. Anne Tomaschek in a release.

“These data provide an important basis for the development of prevention programs,” continues Dr. Denise Dörfel, postdoc at the Chair of Work and Organisational Psychology. “In view of the increasing burden and high costs of CLBP for individuals, employers and society, this meta-analysis provides important insights for public health and human resource management. A redesign of working conditions could reduce pain-related absenteeism. Flexible breaks, more autonomy in scheduling the work, all this reduces the workload,” explains the psychologist. “Social support from colleagues and more feedback and recognition from superiors may also help.”

The study is published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.

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