Abstract: Objectives: To identify the prevalence of low back pain in undergraduate students with different educational exposures, and to investigate whether undergraduate study which involves physical manual handling is a risk factor for developing low back pain. Design: Cross sectional survey utilising a previously validated questionnaire. Setting: Peninsula Allied Health Centre, University of Plymouth. Participants: All physiotherapy (n=180) and dietetic (n = 126) undergraduate students enrolled at the University of Plymouth. Results: 77% of students responded. Lifetime low back pain prevalence was 62.3% for physiotherapy students and 65.1% for dietetic students; with no significant difference between the two groups (p>0.05). Similarly, no significant differences were demonstrated between the groups in terms of the risk of developing low back pain across a range of prevalence measures (one year, one month, one week). Trends were observed however, with educational exposure to physical manual handling techniques such as “practicing techniques on someone” (relative risk = 3.62, 95% confidence interval 0.39-34) and “having techniques practiced on you” (relative risk = 2.41, 95% confidence interval 0.22 – 26.03) being identified as an increased risk factor for one month prevalence of low back pain in physiotherapy students. Conclusion: In this sample the prevalence of self reported low back pain was similar amongst physiotherapy and dietetic undergraduate students. The percentage of students reporting back pain was comparable with reported rates within the general population. Exposure to physical manual handling techniques, which are an integral part of physiotherapy undergraduate education, did not impact significantly on the risk of physiotherapy students experiencing low back pain.
Keywords: Low Back Pain, Physiotherapists, Work related musculoskeletal disorders, Undergraduate Students