Musculoskeletal pain is associated with occupational physical activities and psychosocial risk factors. We evaluated the relative importance of work-related and psychological determinants of the number of anatomical sites affected by musculoskeletal pain in a cross-sectional survey.
The survey focused on musculoskeletal pain in six body regions (low-back, neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist/hand and knee) among 224 nurses, 200 office workers and 140 postal clerks in Crete (response rate 95%). Information was collected about demographic characteristics, occupational physical load, psychosocial aspects of work, perceptions about causes of pain, mental health, tendency to somatize, and experience of pain in the past 12 months. Poisson regression was used to assess associations of risk factors with the number of painful anatomical sites and interactions were explored using classification and regression trees (CART).
Two-thirds of the study sample reported pain in at least two body sites during the past 12 months, and in 23%, more than three sites were affected. The number of painful anatomical sites was strongly related to both physical load at work and somatizing tendency (with relative risks increased five-fold or more for frequent and disabling multisite pain) , and was also significantly associated with work-related psychosocial factors, and beliefs about work causation. The CART analysis suggested that in the population studied, the leading determinant of the number of painful body sites was somatizing tendency.
In the population studied, pain at multiple anatomical sites is common, and is strongly associated with somatizing tendency, which may have a more important influence on multi-site pain than on pain that is limited to a single anatomical site.