Benefits and liabilities of hypermobility in the back pain disorders of industrial workers


Department of Statistics and Biostatistics, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, USA


Abstract. Objectives. Back pain disorders, sometimes called ‘the nemesis of medicine and the albatross of industry’, are ubiquitous, but have stubbornly defied diagnosis and treatment. Hypermobility syndrome, which is also very common, has been called ‘an enigma of human physiology’. Both conditions have attracted wide attention and interest only recently. In an earlier study, we considered the benefits and liabilities of joint hypermobility by studying 660 musicians in the USA. In a parallel manner, the present study analysed the back pain disorders of 606 workers in a Swedish high-technology industrial plant in the context of spinal hypermobility.

Subjects and methods. The 606 industrial workers were examined for spinal hypermobility using a standard protocol, and interviewed for work-related body-posture requirements and the low back, shoulder and neck pain disorders experienced by them. The data were analysed for associations between hypermobility and physical complaints as a whole, and by taking into account gender and body-postures at work.

Results. Twenty-six per cent (37) of 144 workers with hypermobility but only 14% (64) of 453 without hypermobility experienced back pain (P < 0.002). Among the 326 workers with sitting or standing jobs, 40% (29) of 71 with hypermobility had back pain, whereas only 12% (30) of the 255 without hypermobility experienced back pain (P < 0.001). The corresponding numbers with back pain for 235 in jobs with changing body-postures were 4.5% (3) of 66 with hypermobility and 14% (14) of 169 without hypermobility (P = 0.04).

Conclusions. Hypermobility of the spine is an asset if the work requires change of body-posture, but a liability for those in a standing or sitting assignment. It reinforces a similar hypothesis proposed by Larsson et al.