Prevalence and impact of musculoskeletal disorders in New Zealand nurses, postal workers and office workers


Correspondence to:
Dr David McBride, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, PO Box 913, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand. Fax: (03) 479 7298; e-mail:


Objectives: To describe the prevalence, characteristics and impact of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in New Zealand nurses, postal workers and office workers.

Methods: A postal survey asked participants about MSDs, (low back, neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist/hand or knee pain lasting longer than one day), and demographic, physical and psychosocial factors. Nurses were randomly selected from the Nursing Council database, postal workers from their employer's database and office workers from the 2005 electoral roll.

Results: The response rate of potentially eligible participants was 58% (n=443). Participants were aged 20–59 years; 86% were female. Over the 12 months prior to the survey 88% of respondents had at least one MSD lasting longer than a day and 72% reported an MSD present for at least seven days. Of the 1,003 MSDs reported, 18% required time off work and 24% required modified work duties. In the month prior to the survey 17% of MSDs made functional tasks difficult or impossible. Low back, neck and shoulder pain prevalence did not differ by occupation. Postal workers had the highest prevalence of elbow and wrist/hand pain; nurses of knee pain.

Conclusions: The high prevalence of MSDs among these workers indicates that they are indeed in ‘at risk’ occupations. In each occupational group MSDs encompass a range of anatomical sites, however the overall pattern of MSDs differs by occupation. MSDs have a significant impact on activities at work and home.

Implications: Primary and secondary prevention strategies should encompass a range of anatomical sites and specifically target different occupational groups.