U Researchers Win Largest Grant Ever Awarded to Study Low Back Pain

U Researchers Win Largest Grant Ever Awarded to Study Low Back Pain

Nov 23, 2003 5:00 PM

A $1.5 million grant, the largest-ever grant for an epidemiological study of back pain, has been awarded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine and two other schools.

The four-year study will follow more than 600 workers from Utah, Wisconsin, and Texas to determine risk factors for low back pain. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Texas A&M University will collaborate on the research.

"This study will be designed to sort out what really causes low back pain from rather strongly held opinions," said Kurt T. Hegmann,M.D., M.P.H., research associate professor of family and preventive medicine and the study's epidemiologist and co-principal investigator. "A lot of people think we know what causes low back pain, but that is simply not true. This study will help fill in a lot of gaps in this area of research."

The project will:

. Analyze the workers' jobs in detail.

. Follow workers over the length of the study.

. Analyze both job and non-occupational factors that predict development of low back pain and sciatica (a pinched nerve in the back).

. Validate existing job analysis methods. These job evaluation methods are the most widely used in the world and include a recommendation to limit lifting to 51 pounds. "Many of us believe that that lifting limit is too low, especially for men. We'll test that theory," said Hegmann.

. Construct new job analytical methods that could be utilized in a broad array of industries to prevent these diseases.

The Utah site will be based at the U of U's Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. The medical school's Public Health Programs, the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine, and the Department of Mechanical Engineering will assist in the study.

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