APH 2003, 61, 215-222:

The selection of clinical tests to be assessed in a prospective investigation aimin at predicting back problems among healthy workers.

A. Van Cauwenbergh, G. Vandersmissen, T. Dohogne, P. Jacques, G. Moens

Keywords: back pain, clinical tests, healthy worker

Objectives: To select clinical tests that are able to discriminate between workers with and without back problems. In a second stage, the predictive value of this selection for back problems among current non-complainers, is being assessed in a prospective investigation. This paper only reports on the first (pilot) stage of the study.

Methods: 174 healthy female family care workers underwent a series of clinical tests, possibly related to back problems, and the prevalence of clinical back abnormalities was calculated. Additional data were collected by questionnaire. The association between clinical test results and complaints was examined by means of the chi-square-test and the Mann Whitney u-test. A selection of 32 tests, based on statistical and clinical grounds, was submitted to a discriminant analysis to evaluate the ability to discriminate between complainers and non-complainers.

Results: The most remarkable result was the statistically significant association between hypermobility and absence of back pain during the last year. The strongest statistical associations existed between back pain and low lumbar, lumbosacral and buttock tenderness. A selection of 32 tests was able to correctly classify persons with current back pain in 83%, with pain during the last year in 89% and with pain during the last year with absence from work in 88% of cases.

Conclusion: Our limited series of tests is sufficient to discriminate the majority of asymptomatic subjects from those with previous or current back pain. However, the predictive value of this selection of tests is now being investigated.