Tired firefighters feeling the (back) strain

Tuesday, 28 January, 2020

Tired firefighters feeling the (back) strain

Iranian researchers examining the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in firefighters and their relation to insomnia severity have found — in a study published in January 2020 — that lower back pain could be a significant exacerbating factor. For the study, a total of 118 firefighters from the Iran region of Qazvin completed a self-administered questionnaire. The results revealed that more than half (54.2%) of respondents presented with MSDs and that lower back pain was the most common complaint, cited by 30.5% of participants. Further, one in five (20.3%) of the firefighters who took part had subclinical insomnia and 30% had insomnia that was moderate to severe. Notably, participants with MSDs had a significantly higher severity of insomnia compared with those firefighters without MSDs.

Back pain is the more common type of MSD, with MSDs being conditions that affect nerves, tendons, muscles and supporting structures, such as back discs. Such conditions present as a result of one or more of these affected tissues needing to work harder than they were designed to. “Heavy equipment, emergencies in the workplace and the unpredictable nature of firefighting can result in excessive energy consumption and awkward posture. Over time, this can lead to the development of a variety of musculoskeletal disorders,” lead researcher Dr Zohreh Yazdi said.

“Firefighters generally work in shift work schedules that include long shifts during nights, weekends and holidays, so the prevalence of sleep disorders is also significantly higher in firefighters than the general population,” Yazdi said. “Among different parts of the body, we found a significant association between back pain and severity of insomnia. Our results show that MSDs, especially around the lumbar region, are associated with the severity of insomnia in firefighters. We also observed that the prevalence of MSDs and insomnia was significantly higher in firefighters compared to similar studies in general population. This highlights the need for preventive activities to better protect the occupational health of this vulnerable group.”

As the study notes, MSDs are among the main underlying reasons for decreased productivity at workplaces, and they are prevalent among firefighters due to the awkward postures, forceful movements and unexpected events that characterise their work. Extant scholarship has also shown that MSDs and insomnia are co-morbidities, with this particular study setting out to examine the prevalence of MSDs in firefighters with regard to severity of insomnia. Another key finding of the study was that the highest intensity of back pain in the firefighters that participated was in the middle lumbar region.

The study, titled ‘Prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders in firefighters and its association with insomnia’, was authored by Mahnaz Abbasi, Shabnam Jalilolghadr, Mahdi Soltanabadi and Zohreh Yazdi and published in Policy and Practice in Health and Safety in January 2020.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Ingus Evertovskis

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