The role of psychosocial risk factors on the prevalence of low back pain amongst Grade 12 learners in public schools in the greater Durban area
Seethal, Verusha J.
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Background: Low back pain (LBP) is the most prevalent musculoskeletal condition experienced by human beings and the most common cause of disability in developed nations. Psychosocial factors, involving aspects of social and psychological behaviour, have previously been documented as potential risk factors in the development of adult LBP. However, more research is required to fully understand the role of psychosocial risk factors on the prevalence of LBP amongst adolescents. Objective: To determine the prevalence of LBP and to identify selected psychosocial risk factors associated with LBP amongst Grade 12 learners in the Greater Durban area. Methods: A population-based study was conducted amongst a stratified random sample of 20 public secondary schools in all three educational districts in the Greater Durban area. Data was collected by means of a structured questionnaire administered to the sample population consisting of Grade 12 learners. Using an exploratory research design, the individuals reported on demographics as well as prevalence, severity, frequency and chronicity of LBP. In addition, data was obtained regarding various psychosocial risk factors including depression, exam stress and anxiety, socio-economic status, family history of LBP, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse amongst the respondents. Results: The prevalence of LBP was 57.42% with a median frequency of 8 times a month. About a third (33.9%) of the respondents experienced difficulty bending whilst 35% reported that their LBP spread down to the legs below their knees. The daily activity most affected by LBP was having a good night‟s sleep (50.6%), followed closely by playing sports (47.4%) and concentrating in class (46.6%). The majority of the respondents that suffered from LBP had taken pain relief medication (47.1%) whilst only 21% of the respondents had missed school because of LBP. With regards to the psychosocial risk factors under investigation, three of the risk factors did not show any association to LBP. They included socio-economic status, smoking and recreational drug use. In contrast, five psychosocial risk factors showed an 6 association to LBP. They included alcohol abuse, family history, exam stress, anxiety and depression. Finally, after adjusting for all other risk factors for adolescent LBP, depression and high exam stress showed the strongest correlation with the occurrence of LBP amongst Grade 12 learners in the Greater Durban area. Conclusion: LBP amongst adolescents is a common problem that increases with age, representing a risk for LBP in adulthood. The researcher is of the opinion, that this illustrates the need for further investigations with more profound studies on the risk factors so that more light can be shed on how to manage this ever-growing problem.