Objectives. We used individual participant data from multiple studies to conduct a comprehensive meta-analysis of mechanical exposures in the workplace and low back pain.
Methods. We conducted a systematic literature search and contacted an author of each study to request their individual participant data. Because outcome definitions and exposure measures were not uniform across studies, we conducted 2 substudies: (1) to identify sets of outcome definitions that could be combined in a meta-analysis and (2) to develop methods to translate mechanical exposure onto a common metric. We used generalized estimating equation regression to analyze the data.
Results. The odds ratios (ORs) for posture exposures ranged from 1.1 to 2.0. Force exposure ORs ranged from 1.4 to 2.1. The magnitudes of the ORs differed according to the definition of low back pain, and heterogeneity was associated with both study-level and individual-level characteristics.
Conclusions. We found small to moderate ORs for the association of mechanical exposures and low back pain, although the relationships were complex. The presence of individual-level OR modifiers in such an area can be best understood by conducting a meta-analysis of individual participant data.