New research to prevent back pains among police officers

Police working in active duty are exposed for an increased risk of developing back pain. This is something that could be prevented by a redistribution of the equipment, according to a new doctoral thesis from The School of Health and Welfare, Jönköping University.

Orthotic Engineer Louise Bæk Larsen is specialized in motion analysis and biomechanics. Her thesis is based on a project that has been carried out in close cooperation with the National Operations Department and the Chief Protection Officer of the Police in Region East. The project is funded by the National Operations Department and has, in addition to the thesis, resulted in six different reports.

Police working in active duty are subject to occupation-specific exposures in the workplace that could place them at an increased risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders – but research within the field is limited, nationally as well as internationally. These exposures include the requirement to wear duty belt and body armour. In combination with other equipment, this means up to 10 kg extra weight to be worn 40 hours a week – regardless of whether the individual weighs 60 or 90 kg.

Louise Bæk Larsen's dissertation comprises four studies, two of which are based on a questionnaire answered by 60 percent of the Swedish policemen in active service.

– This showed that 43.2 percent of the policemen experience lower back pain, which is a significant difference to the 32 percent average for other professions. The survey also showed that both physical and psychosocial factors could be related to the perceived pain, Louise Bæk Larsen concludes.

The thesis also includes two biomechanical studies, one of which has been carried out at the school’s walking laboratory. 20 police officers have participated in the studies, which have included a walking analysis and a pressure measurement of equipment when sitting in fleet vehicles.

– The results show that it may be an option to redistribute the weight from the waist, for example by placing the weapon in a holster on the leg, and by moving some of the equipment in the belt up to the body armour. This could facilitate a more naturally movement and thereby reduce the risk of pains in the lower back.

The project and the thesis are likely to result in further collaborations between the Police and Jönköping University, in order to turn the new findings into practical solutions, says Louise Bæk Larsen:

– Our work provides knowledge and arguments that can help the Swedish police to improve workplace ergonomics. This knowledge is also important in the future procurement of new equipment.

Louise Bæk Larsen successfully defended her thesis ”Factors related to musculoskeletal disorders in Swedish police” at The School of Health and Welfare, Jönköping University, April 27th.