STUDY OBJECTIVE--To compare the prevalence of low back pain and associated disability in Hong Kong with that in Britain, and to explore whether differences could be explained by certain known risk factors. DESIGN--A cross sectional survey with information collected at interview. Findings were compared with those from an earlier survey in Britain. SETTING--Two housing blocks in Hong Kong. SUBJECTS--Altogether 288 men and 364 women aged 18 years or older, who were resident in the two housing blocks and agreed to interview (response rate = 80%). MAIN RESULTS--Thirty nine per cent (95% confidence interval (CI) 34%, 44%) of interviewees reported having had low back pain at some time, and 21% (95% CI 18%, 25%) had had low back pain in the past 12 months. After standardisation for age and sex, all of the back symptoms examined were substantially less common in Hong Kong than in Britain. The one year period prevalence of low back pain was associated with occupational lifting (in both sexes) and with tall stature (in men only). Subjects tended to carry out less heavy lifting at work and to be shorter than participants in the earlier British study but these differences did not completely explain their lower prevalence of back pain. CONCLUSIONS--The findings indicate a lower prevalence of back symptoms in Hong Kong than Britain that is partly explained by differences in stature and occupational lifting. In addition, Hong Kong people may have a higher threshold for reporting symptoms, or they may differ in their exposure to other, unrecognised risk factors.
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