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Open Access Research article

Is undergraduate physiotherapy study a risk factor for low back pain? A prevalence study of LBP in physiotherapy students

Leah Jane Nyland and Karen Anne Grimmer*

Author Affiliations

Centre for Allied Health Research, University of South Australia, City East Campus, North Terrace, Adelaide 5000, Australia

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2003, 4:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-4-22

Published: 9 October 2003

Abstract

Background

Following reports of high prevalence of low back pain (LBP) in young physiotherapists [17-22], we investigated whether LBP was a problem for undergraduate physiotherapy students.

Method

Physiotherapy students enrolled in one Australian tertiary institution completed a validated self-administered questionnaire in April 2001, seeking information on LBP prevalence (lifetime, 12 month, one-month, one-week), and its risk factors. The survey incorporated the Nordic back questionnaire, questions on common risks for LBP, and purpose-built questions regarding educational exposures. Univariate logistic regression models were applied to test associations.

Results and Discussion

72% students responded. LBP prevalence was 69% (lifetime), 63% (12-month), 44% (one-month), 28% (one-week). The risk of LBP increased significantly for students once they completed first year. Being aged 20 or 21 years (final year students) was significantly associated with all measures of LBP, compared with the youngest students. Exposure to tertiary study of greater than two years was associated with lifetime, 12 month and one-month LBP prevalence. Spending more than 20 hours in the past month 'sitting looking down' was significantly associated with one-month LBP prevalence. Similar exposure to 'treating patients' was significantly associated with one-month and one-week LBP prevalence.

Conclusions

Physiotherapy students should be alerted to the likelihood of LBP and is potential causes during their training, so that they enter the workforce with reduced risk of LBP. The potential for other undergraduate students to suffer LBP should also be considered.

Keywords:
Low back pain; physiotherapy students; risk factors