Family Background Affects Risk of Disability from Back Disorders

A JOEM study finds family factors increase risk of disability due to low back disorders, suggesting prevention "“may need to start in early life," according to ACOEM.

Work and lifestyle factors affecting the risk of disability due to low back disorders tend to be shared among family members, according to a study using data from a large sample of "discordant" Finnish twins — that is, one twin was on disability and the other off disability. The study is published in the November issue of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine's Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The lead author was Annina Ropponen (annina.ropponen@uef.fi), Ph.D., of the University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio.

The work is part of a continuing study of risk factors for future disability pension from low-back disorders; using twins' data helps to evaluate possible familial factors, according to ACOEM, which said several work-related factors were linked to an increased risk of disability pension, including monotonous work, lifting and carrying, physically heavy work, and previous unemployment.

The researchers concluded a healthy lifestyle predicted a lower risk of back-related disability, but when disability risk was compared between twin pairs, nearly all of the risk factors were "due to family background or other factors shared by co-twins" — whether related to genetics, social background, or both, they wrote.

"The effect of familial confounding highlights the importance of some early childhood factors or habits shared among family members," Ropponen and colleagues reported. Factors such as exercise, smoking, and body weight are influenced by family background, which in turn affects disability risk. "This may suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle early in life is important if one wishes to avoid disability pension," they added.

The paper's citation is Ropponen A, Silventoinen K, Svedberg P, et al. Effects of work and lifestyle on risk for future disability pension due to low back diagnoses: a 30-year prospective study of Finnish twins. J Occup Environ Med. 2012;54(11):1330-6.

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