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Open Access Research article

Physical health-related quality of life predicts disability pension due to musculoskeletal disorders: seven years follow-up of the Hordaland Health Study Cohort

Inger Haukenes12*, Erlend H Farbu1, Trond Riise1 and Grethe S Tell1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, University of Bergen, Kalfarveien 31, Bergen NO-5018, Norway

2 Department of Public Mental Health, Division of Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Bergen, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:167  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-167

Published: 14 February 2014



Musculoskeletal diseases are characterized by a high degree of comorbidity with common mental disorders and are a major cause of health-related exclusion from working life. Using a prospective design we aimed to examine the relative importance of physical and mental health-related quality of life as predictors of disability pension due to musculoskeletal diseases.


A subsample (N = 18581) born 1953–1957, participated in the The Hordaland Health Study (HUSK) during 1997–1999, and was followed through December 31st 2004. Baseline measures of health-related quality of life were estimated using the Physical (PCS) and Mental Component Summary (MCS) of the Short Form-12 (SF-12). Further information on education, occupation, smoking, physical activity, number of musculoskeletal pain sites and BMI were provided by questionnaires and health examination. The association between self-perceived physical and mental health and subsequent disability pension, obtained from the national database of health and social benefits was estimated using Cox regression analyses.


Participants reporting poor physical health (quartile 1) had a marked increased risk for disability pension due to musculoskeletal diseases (age and gender-adjusted hazard ratio = 22.1, 95% CI = 12.5–39.0) compared with those reporting good/somewhat good physical health (quartiles 4 and 3 combined). Adjustment for socioeconomic status and lifestyle factors slightly attenuated the association (hazard ratio = 16.7), and adding number of reported pain sites weakened the association even more (hazard ratio = 7.1, 95% CI = 3.8–12.8). Also, participants reporting poor mental health had a higher risk for disability pension due to musculoskeletal diseases (age and gender adjusted hazard ratio = 1.8, 95% CI = 1.3–2.6); however, in the final model the risk was not statistically significant.


The physical component in health-related quality of life (SF-12) was a strong predictor of disability pension due to musculoskeletal diseases, whereas the mental component played a less prominent role.

Cohort study; Disability pension; Physical health; Musculoskeletal disorders; Mental health; Quality of life; Self-reported health