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The Effect of Body Mass Index on Recovery and Return to Work After Onset of Work-Related Low Back Pain

Shaw, William S. PhD; Tveito, Torill H. PhD; Woiszwillo, Mary Jane BS; Pransky, Glenn MD, MOccH

Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31823ea80f
Original Articles

Objective: To assess the effect of body mass index (BMI) on pain and function outcomes in the acute and subacute stages of work-related low back pain (LBP).

Methods: A prospective cohort of working-age patients (410 male, 197 female) with recent onset LBP (≤14 days' duration) provided height and weight as part of a study of prognostic factors for back disability. Self-reported pain, functional limitation, and work status were assessed at 1- and 3-month follow-ups.

Results: BMI (kg/m2) was used to categorize participants as normal (31%), overweight (40%), or obese (29%). In prediction analyses, outcomes of pain, functional limitation, and return to work showed no significant variation (P > 0.05) by BMI, with or without controlling for potential confounds.

Conclusions: BMI is not a useful prognostic factor during the acute and subacute stages of work-related LBP.

Author Information

From the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety (Drs Shaw, Tveito, and Pransky, and Ms Woiszwillo), Hopkinton, Mass; University of Massachusetts Medical School (Drs Shaw and Pransky), Worcester, Mass; Harvard School of Public Health (Dr Tveito), Boston, Mass; and UniHealth (Dr Tveito), Bergen, Norway.

Address correspondence to: William S. Shaw, PhD, Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, 71 Frankland Rd, Hopkinton, MA 01748 (

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

©2012The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine