Do work-related factors affect care-seeking in general practice for back pain or upper extremity pain?
Objectives Musculoskeletal pain conditions remain a major cause of care-seeking in general practice. Not all patients with musculoskeletal pain (MP) seek care at their general practitioner (GP), but for those who do, the GP’s knowledge of what work-related factors might have influenced the patient’s decision to seek care could be important in order to give more well-founded advice to our patients. The objective of this study was to elucidate the effects of workloads on care-seeking for back pain or upper extremity pain during an eighteen-month follow-up period.
Methods This is a prospective study with a baseline questionnaire and eighteen-month follow-up. Among the registered patients of 8 GPs, we identified 8,517 persons between 17 and 65 years of age, who all received the questionnaire. A total of 5,068 (59.5 %) persons answered. During the eighteen months of follow-up, we used the International Classification for Primary Care (ICPC) to identify all care-seekers with either back pain or upper extremity pain. Of these, all currently employed persons were included in our analysis, in all 4,325 persons. For analysis, we used Cox proportional hazards regression analysis. Analyses were stratified by gender.
Results High levels of heavy lifting, defined as the upper tertile on a categorical scale, were associated with care-seeking for back pain (HR 1.90 [95 % CI: 1.14–3.15]) and upper extremity pain (HR 2.09 [95 % CI: 1.30–3.38]) among males, but not in a statistically significant way among females. Repetitive work and psychosocial factors did not have any statistically significant impact on care-seeking for neither back pain nor upper extremity pain.
Conclusion Work-related factors such as heavy lifting do, to some extent, contribute to care-seeking with MP. We suggest that asking the patient about physical workloads should be routinely included in consultations dealing with MP.