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Risk Factors for Physical Discomfort in Australian Optometrists

Long, Jennifer*; Naduvilath, Thomas J.; Hao, Ling (Eileen); Li, Annie; Ng, Weixiang; Yip, Wesley; Stapleton, Fiona§

doi: 10.1097/OPX.0b013e3182045a8e
Original Article

Purpose. There are anecdotal reports that optometrists suffer work-related physical discomfort but no published reports to support this.

Methods. An on-line questionnaire was sent by e-mail to ∼1700 Australian optometrists. Participants were asked if they experienced work-related discomfort in any of eight nominated body regions, the type and severity of discomfort, self-reported work-related factors contributing to the discomfort, and demographic and work-related information.

Results. Four hundred sixteen optometrists participated in the questionnaire. Work-related physical discomfort was reported by 82% of respondents. The most common sites of discomfort were neck, shoulder, and lower back. Univariate analysis revealed that females are more likely to report discomfort than males (p = 0.001) and more likely to report a higher number of discomfort sites (p = 0.002). Multivariate analysis revealed that females have up to a 6.6× [confidence interval (CI) = 2.2–19.9] greater risk of reporting discomfort in individual body locations compared with males and a higher risk of experiencing severe discomfort (discomfort present for >30 days) [odds ratio (OR) = 3.0, CI = 1.7 to 5.5]. A greater number of eye examinations per day increased the risk of reporting work-related discomfort by up to 5.1× (CI = 2.1 to 12.7). Being self-employed and being older than 40 years both appear to be protective factors for work-related discomfort. The risk of experiencing severe discomfort is increased by performing repetitive tasks (OR = 1.9, CI = 1.2 to 3.1) and by continuing to work while injured (OR = 2.9, CI = 1.6 to 5.2). Eliminating both these factors would reduce the disease load for severe discomfort by 28%.

Conclusions. Females, young optometrists, and those conducting a high number of consultations daily have a higher risk of experiencing work-related physical discomfort. Performing repetitive tasks and continuing to work while injured increases the risk of severe discomfort. The results of this investigation have important implications for the longevity of the optometry workforce.


*BOptom(Hons), MSafetySc



§McOptom, PhD, FAAO

School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of New South Wales (JL, LH, AL, WN, WY, FS), and the Brian Holden Vision Institute (TJN), Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

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Jennifer Long; School of Optometry and Vision Science The University of New South Wales Sydney, New South Wales 2052 Australia e-mail:

Received March 19, 2010; accepted August 31, 2010.

© 2011 American Academy of Optometry