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Does the Threshold for Reporting Musculoskeletal Pain or the Probability of Attributing Work-Relatedness Vary by Socioeconomic Position or Sex?

Mehlum, Ingrid Sivesind PhD; Kristensen, Petter PhD; Veiersted, Kaj Bo PhD; Wærsted, Morten PhD; Punnett, Laura ScD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: August 2013 - Volume 55 - Issue 8 - p 901–909
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31828dc8ec
Original Articles

Objective: To examine the effect of sex and socioeconomic position (SEP) on individuals' perceptions of pain and its work-relatedness.

Methods: We compared self-reported pain in neck–shoulder or arm with clinical diagnoses and workers' judgments of work-relatedness with physicians' assessments based on specific criteria, between sexes and high- and low-SEP participants in the Oslo Health Study (n = 217).

Results: Clinical diagnoses were more frequent in low-SEP subjects than high-SEP subjects with pain and generally higher in women than in men. Pain attributed to work was more frequently assessed as work-related by the physicians in low-SEP subjects than high-SEP subjects and in men than in women of low SEP.

Conclusions: The threshold for reporting pain seemed higher in low-SEP subjects and among women. Physicians were more likely to agree with low-SEP workers about work-relatedness.

From the Departments of Occupational Medicine and Epidemiology (Drs Mehlum and Kristensen) and Work Related Psychology and Physiology (Drs Veiersted and Wærsted), National Institute of Occupational Health, Oslo, Norway; and Department of Work Environment (Dr Punnett), University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Address correspondence to: Ingrid Sivesind Mehlum, PhD, Department of Occupational Medicine and Epidemiology, National Institute of Occupational Health, PO Box 8149 Dep, N-0033 Oslo, Norway (

This study was supported financially by the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry's Working Environment Fund (Oslo, Norway) and the Directorate of Labour Inspection (Oslo, Norway).

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Copyright © 2013 by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine