Back pain and related disability seem to be increasing among older adults. Health-related fitness tests have been developed to identify individuals at risk for mobility difficulties. However, poor fitness as a risk factor for back problems has seldom been studied. The purpose of the current study was to investigate whether performance in fitness tests predicts back pain and related disability during 6 years of follow-up.
Study population consisted of community-dwelling men and women, born 1927 to 1941, who participated in assessment of health-related fitness and reported no long-term back pain or related disability at baseline (n = 517). The assessment included measurements of body mass index (BMI), one-leg stand, backward tandem walk, trunk side-bending, dynamic back extension, forward squat, 6.1-m walking speed and 1-km walk time.
Prospective analyses indicated that poor fitness (poorest-third) in one-leg stand and trunk side-bending tests were the most powerful predictors of back pain. Regarding disability, poor fitness in dynamic back extension and overweight in terms of BMI ≥ 27 increased the risk.
Tests of balance, trunk flexibility and trunk muscle endurance, as well as BMI can be implemented as screening tools for identifying persons with increased risk of back pain and related disability.