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Open Access Research article

Low back pain in military recruits in relation to social background and previous low back pain. A cross-sectional and prospective observational survey

Lise Hestbaek1*, Kristian Larsen2, Flemming Weidick3 and Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde4

Author Affiliations

1 The Back Research Center, University of Southern Denmark and Hospital of Fynen, Lindevej 5, 5750 Ringe, Denmark

2 The Medical Research Unit, County of Ringkjøbing, Amtsrådhuset, Torvet, 6950 Ringkøbing, Denmark

3 Private practice, Herningvej 23, 7270 Stakroge, Denmark

4 The Back Research Center, University of Southern Denmark and Hospital of Fynen Lindevej 5, 5750 Ringe, Denmark

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2005, 6:25  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-6-25

Published: 26 May 2005



Traditionally, studies on the etiology of low back pain have been carried out in adult populations. However, since low back pain often appears early in life, more research on young populations is needed. This study focuses on the importance of social background factors and previous low back pain in the development of low back pain in military recruits.


During a three-month period, Danish military recruits with different social backgrounds live and work under the same conditions. Thus, there is an opportunity to investigate the influence of social background on the development of low back pain, when persons are removed from their usual environment and submitted to a number of new stressors. In addition, the importance of the recruits' previous low back pain history in relation to low back pain during military service was studied. This was done by means of questionnaires to 1,711 recruits before and after this three-month period.


Sedentary occupation was negatively associated with long-lasting low back pain (>30 days during the past year) at baseline with an odds ratios of 0.55 (95% CI: 0.33–0.90). This effect vanished during service. Having parents with higher education increased the risk of low back pain during service (OR: 1.9;1.2–3.0, for the highest educated group), but not of the consequences (leg pain and exemption from duty), whereas high IQ decreased the risk of these consequences (odds ratios as low as 0.2;0.1–0.8 for exemption from duty in the group with highest IQ). Long-lasting low back pain prior to service increased the risk of long-lasting low back pain (OR: 4.8;2.1–10.8), leg pain (OR: 3.3;1.3–8.3) and exemption from duty during service (OR: 5.9;2.4–14.8).


Sedentary occupation is negatively associated with low back pain at baseline. This protective effect disappears, when the person becomes physically active. For predicting trouble related to the low back during service, the duration of low back pain prior to service and IQ-level are the most important factors.