High levels of back disability, not back pain, are associated with reduced physical activity across key activity domains

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Background: Although remaining physically active is the cornerstone of management for low back pain, our understanding of the physical activity performed by those with back pain is limited. Objectives: To examine the physical activity reported by individuals with different levels of low back pain and disability across key activity domains. Design: Community-based, cross-sectional study. Methods: 542 women were recruited from a research database formed from an electoral roll and completed validated, self-report questionnaires. The amount and intensity of physical activity was reported using the International Physical Activity Questionnaire. Low back pain and disability were examined using the Graded Chronic Pain Scale. Participants were categorised into no, low or high pain and disability groups. Results: Individuals who reported high disability performed 55% of the physical activity of those without disability (MET(hours/week):median(95%CI) = 27.1(13.2–41.0); 48.8(37.8–59.9),p = 0.01), including less moderate (18.0(10.4–25.6); 31.0(24.0–38.1),p = 0.007), and domestic and gardening activity (14.7(7.2–22.3); 25.7(19.8–31.7),p = 0.001). Fewer women with high disability performed vigorous (OR(95%CI) = 0.29(0.13–0.65),p = 0.002) and leisure activities (0.17(0.04–0.75),p = 0.02) compared to those with no disability. Those with low disability reported less leisure activity ((0.55(0.35–0.88),p = 0.01), but more work-related activities and active transport than individuals without disability (1.65(1.01–2.7),p = 0.04; 1.6(1.04–2.6),p = 0.03). There were no differences in activity between pain groups, with the exception of those with low intensity pain performing less leisure activity (0.51(0.30–0.88),p = 0.01). Conclusions: Individuals who reported high back disability, not back pain, were found to perform reduced physical activity, including less total, moderate, vigorous, and discretionary activity. These findings highlight the altered activity levels of people with back disability and the need to examine its impact on their health and wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102768
Number of pages9
JournalMusculoskeletal Science and Practice
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • Activity domains
  • Back disability
  • General health
  • Low back pain
  • Pain intensity
  • Physical activity
  • Wellbeing

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