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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Prevalence of low back pain by anatomic location and intensity in an occupational population

Matthew S Thiese1*, Kurt T Hegmann1, Eric M Wood1, Arun Garg2, J Steven Moore4, Jay Kapellusch3, James Foster2 and Ulrike Ott1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational & Environment Health, School of Medicine, University of Utah, 391 Chipeta Way, Suite C, Salt Lake City, UT 84108, USA

2 Center for Ergonomics, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, P.O. Box 784, Milwaukee, WI 53201, USA

3 Occupational Science & Technology Department, College of Health Sciences, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, PO Box 415, Milwaukee, WI 53201, USA

4 School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, College Station, TX 77843-1266, USA

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2014, 15:283  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-15-283

Published: 21 August 2014



Low Back Pain (LBP) is a common and costly problem, with variation in prevalence. Epidemiological reports of rating of pain intensity and location within the low back area are rare. The objective is to describe LBP in a large, multi-center, occupational cohort detailing both point and 1-month period prevalence of LBP by location and intensity measures at baseline.


In this cross-sectional report from a prospective cohort study, 828 participants were workers enrolled from 30 facilities performing a variety of manual material handling tasks. All participants underwent a structured interview detailing pain rating and location. Symptoms in the lower extremities, demographic and other data were collected. Body mass indices were measured. Outcomes are pain rating (0–10) in five defined lumbar back areas (i) LBP in the past month and (ii) LBP on the day of enrollment. Pain ratings were reported on a 0–10 scale and subsequently collapsed with ratings of 1–3, 4–6 and 7–10 classified as low, medium and high respectively.


172 (20.8%) and 364 (44.0%) of the 828 participants reported pain on the day of enrollment or within the past month, respectively. The most common area of LBP was in the immediate paraspinal area with 130 (75.6%) participants with point prevalence LBP and 278 (77.4%) with 1-month period prevalence reported having LBP in the immediate paraspinal area. Among those 364 reporting 1-month period prevalence pain, ratings varied widely with 116 (31.9%) reporting ratings classified as low, 170 (46.7%) medium and 78 (21.4%) providing high pain ratings in any location. Among the 278 reporting 1-month period prevalence pain in the immediate paraspinal area, 89 (32.0%) reported ratings classified as low, 129 (46.4%), medium and 60 (21.6%) high pain ratings.


Pain ratings varied widely, however less variability was seen in pain location, with immediate paraspinal region being the most common. Variations may suggest different etiological factors related to LBP. Aggregation of different locations of pain or different intensities of pain into one binary classification of LBP may result in loss of information which may potentially be useful in prevention or treatment of LBP.

Low back pain; Point prevalence; 1-month period prevalence; Intensity; Location; Epidemiological; Cross-sectional analysis