We investigated the separate and joint effects of multi-site musculoskeletal pain and physical and psychosocial exposures at work on future work ability.


A survey was conducted among employees of a Finnish food industry company in 2005 (n = 1201) and a follow-up survey in 2009 (n = 734). Information on self-assessed work ability (current work ability on a scale from 0 to 10; 7 = poor work ability), multi-site musculoskeletal pain (pain in at least two anatomical areas of four), leisure-time physical activity, body mass index and physical and psychosocial exposures was obtained by questionnaire. The separate and joint effects of multi-site pain and work exposures on work ability at follow-up, among subjects with good work ability at baseline, were assessed by logistic regression, and p-values for the interaction derived.


Compared with subjects with neither multi-site pain nor adverse work exposure, multi-site pain at baseline increased the risk of poor work ability at follow-up, allowing for age, gender, occupational class, body mass index and leisure-time physical activity. The separate effects of the work exposures on work ability were somewhat smaller than those of multi-site pain. Multi-site pain had an interactive effect with work environment and awkward postures, such that no association of multi-site pain with poor work ability was seen when work environment was poor or awkward postures present.


The decline in work ability connected with multi-site pain was not increased by exposure to adverse physical or psychosocial factors at work.