Prevalence/Incidence of Low Back Pain and Associated Risk Factors Among Nursing and Medical Students: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Arnold Y.L. Wong (Corresponding Author), Lloyd L.Y. Chan, Cathy W.T. Lo, Winnie W.Y. Chan, Kelvin C.K. Lam, Jackie C.H. Bao, Manuela L. Ferreira, Susan Armijo-Olivo

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To summarize evidence regarding the prevalence and incidence of low back pain and associated risk factors in nursing and medical students. Type: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Literature Survey: The protocol was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42015029729). Its reporting followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Seven databases were searched until August 2020 to identify relevant studies. Methodology: Two independent reviewers screened, extracted, and evaluated the risk of bias of the selected studies. Meta-analyses were used to estimate 12-month prevalence/incidence rates of low back pain and associated risk factors in these students. Levels of evidence for risk factors were determined by the updated Guidelines for Systematic Reviews in the Cochrane Collaboration Back Review Group. Synthesis: Sixteen studies involving 7072 students were included. The pooled 12-month prevalence rates of low back pain for nursing and medical students were 44% (95% confidence interval [95% CI]: 27%-61%) and 53% (95% CI: 44%-62%), respectively. The 12-month incidence of low back pain in nursing students ranged from 29% to 67%. No incidence rate was reported in medical students. Strong/moderate-quality evidence supported that final year of study (pooled odds ratio [OR] from five studies, 1.96, 95% CI: 1.13-3.40), anxiety (OR ranging from 3.12 to 4.61), or high mental pressure or psychological distress (OR ranging from 1.37 to 4.52) was associated with a higher 12-month low back pain prevalence in both student groups. Moderate-quality evidence suggested that prior history of low back pain (pooled OR from two studies: 3.46, 95% CI: 1.88-6.36) was associated with a higher 12-month low back pain incidence in nursing students. Similarly, moderate-quality evidence suggested that female medical students (pooled OR from two studies: 1.77, 95% CI: 1.09-2.86) demonstrated a higher 12-month low back pain prevalence than male counterparts. Conclusions: Although it is impossible to alter nonmodifiable risk factors for low back pain, universities may develop and implement proper strategies to mitigate modifiable risk factors in these students.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1266-1280
Number of pages15
JournalPM and R
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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