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Psychosocial effects of workplace physical exercise among workers with chronic pain: Randomized controlled trial

Andersen, Lars L. PhD; Persson, Roger PhD; Jakobsen, Markus D. PhD; Sundstrup, Emil PhD

Section Editor(s): García-Massó., Xavier

doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000005709
Research Article: Clinical Trial/Experimental Study

While workplace physical exercise can help manage musculoskeletal disorders, less is known about psychosocial effects of such interventions. This aim of this study was to investigate the effect of workplace physical exercise on psychosocial factors among workers with chronic musculoskeletal pain.

The trial design was a 2-armed parallel-group randomized controlled trial with allocation concealment. A total of 66 slaughterhouse workers (51 men and 15 women, mean age 45 years [standard deviation (SD) 10]) with upper limb chronic musculoskeletal pain were randomly allocated to group-based strength training (physical exercise group) or individual ergonomic training and education (reference group) for 10 weeks. Social climate was assessed with the General Nordic Questionnaire for Psychological and Social Factors at Work, and vitality and mental health were assessed with the 36-item Short Form Health Survey. All scales were converted to 0 to 100 (higher scores are better). Between-group differences from baseline to follow-up were determined using linear mixed models adjusted for workplace, age, gender, and baseline values of the outcome.

Mean baseline scores of social climate, mental health, and vitality were 52.2 (SD 14.9), 79.5 (SD 13.7), and 53.9 (SD 19.7), respectively. Complete baseline and follow-up data were obtained from 30 and 31 from the physical exercise and reference groups, respectively. The between-group differences from baseline to follow-up between physical exercise and reference were 7.6 (95% CI 0.3 to 14.9), −2.3 (95% CI -10.3 to 5.8), and 10.1 (95% CI 0.6 to 19.5) for social climate, mental health, and vitality, respectively. For social climate and vitality, this corresponded to moderate effect sizes (Cohen d = 0.51 for both) in favor of physical exercise. There were no reported adverse events.

In conclusion, workplace physical exercise performed together with colleagues improves social climate and vitality among workers with chronic musculoskeletal pain. Mental health remained unchanged.

aNational Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark

bDepartment of Psychology

cDepartment of Laboratory Medicine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

dPhysical Activity and Human Performance Group, SMI, Department of Health Science and Technology, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark.

Correspondence: Lars L. Andersen, National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Lersø Parkalle 105, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark (e-mail:

Abbreviations: CONSORT = Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials, QPS-Nordic = General Nordic Questionnaire for Psychological and Social Factors at Work, SF-36 = 36-item Short Form Health Survey.

Author contributions: LLA, RP, and ESU designed the study. ESU and MDJ collected the data. LLA analyzed the data, and all authors were involved in the data interpretation. LLA drafted the manuscript, and all coauthors revised it critically for important intellectual content. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding/support: The study was supported by a grant from the Danish Parliament (Satspuljen 2012; Nye Veje) grant number The funder had no influence on the study design or interpretation of results.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives License 4.0, which allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the author.

Received June 11, 2016

Received in revised form October 30, 2016

Accepted November 29, 2016

Copyright © 2017 The Authors. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.