Work activities and the onset of first-time low back pain among New York city fire fighters

Iman A. Nuwayhid, Walter Stewart, Jeffrey V. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


In a prospective study of first-time low back pain among New York City fire fighters, a total of 115 cases and 109 randomly selected controls were Interviewed by telephone between December 1988 and July 1989 to examine the role of recent work activities in the onset of first-time low back pain. After adjusting for known risk factors and off-duty activities, statistically significant high-risk work activities included operating a charged hose inside a building (odds ratio (OR) = 3.26), climbing ladders (OR = 3.18), breaking windows (OR = 4.45), cutting structures (OR = 6.47), looking for hidden fires (OR = 4.32), and lifting objects ≥18 kg (OR = 3.07). Low-risk activities included connecting hydrants to pumpers (OR = 0.36), pulling booster hose (OR = 0.19), and participating in drills (OR = 0.09) or physical training (OR = 0.16). When further adjusted for exposure to smoke (OR = 13.59), a surrogate for severity of alarms, the ORs associated with high-risk activities were no longer significant. This, however, does not diminish the role of activities in the onset of low back pain. instead, it suggests an inseparable role for activities and environmental hazards. To examine this, the risk of low back pain was measured within five work zones sequential in time relative to location and distance from a structural fire. The risk gradually increased as the fire fighter moved away from the firehouse (OR = 0.10) and closer to the site of fire (OR = 3.91).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-548
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 1993


  • Backache
  • Case-control studies
  • Fires
  • Occupations
  • Risk factors
  • Work
  • Wounds and injuries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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