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Open Access Research article

Chronic back problems and labor force participation in a national population survey: impact of comorbid arthritis

Lauren Churcher1, Christina H Chan1 and Elizabeth M Badley12*

Author Affiliations

1 Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit, Toronto Western Research Institute, University Health Network, 399 Bathurst Street, MP10-322, Toronto, ON M5T 2S8, Canada

2 Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:326  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-326

Published: 10 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Back problems and arthritis are common chronic conditions, while having back problems is a frequent reason for lost work time. The objective of this study was to investigate employment status amongst individuals who report having both back problems and arthritis, compared to having either condition alone.

Methods

We analyzed data from the 2007/2008 Canadian Community Health Survey (ages 25–64, n = 79,719). Respondents who reported neither having worked in the past 12 months nor the past week were coded as not currently employed. Those reported being permanently unable to work were considered to be out of the labor force. Log-Poisson regressions, adjusting for socio-demographic and lifestyle factors, were used to estimate risks for being not currently employed or being out of the labor force for 5 mutually exclusive groups of chronic conditions: arthritis and back problems, back problems, arthritis, any other chronic conditions, and no chronic conditions.

Results

12.7% of respondents reported being not currently employed and 2.9% being out of the labor force. 5.8% of respondents reported both arthritis and back problems, while 16.1% reported back problems and 7.3% arthritis. The back problems and arthritis group had the highest risk of not being currently employed. The risk was higher for men (PR = 1.90; 95% CI = 1.58, 2.29) than for women (PR = 1.31; 95% CI = 1.18, 1.46). Risks of being permanently unable to work were also the greatest for those with comorbid back problems and arthritis.

Conclusions

There is a need for a reappraisal of back problems as a cause of work disability to account for the possibility of co-occurring arthritis.

Keywords:
Arthritis; Back problems; Employment; Comorbidity