SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.17 issue2Chronic pain map in the Internet: exploratory studyEvaluation of the knowledge of postoperative pain among participants of a virtual scientific journey in Anesthesiology author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Services on Demand




Related links


Revista Dor

Print version ISSN 1806-0013On-line version ISSN 2317-6393

Rev. dor vol.17 no.2 São Paulo Apr./June 2016 


Pain prevalence on public servants: association with sedentary behavior and physical leisure activity

José Jean de Oliveira Toscano1 

Anna Cecilya Gomes Zefferino1 

Jamerson Bruno Cordeiro Felix1 

Cyro Rego Cabral Júnior1 

Diego Augusto Santos Silva2 

1Universidade Federal de Alagoas, Maceió, AL, Brasil.

2Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, SC, Brasil.



From usual actions which reflect lifestyle of those working on administrative functions, there is the sedentary behavior. This study aimed at associating prevalence of pain to sedentary behavior and physical activity level of public servants.


Sample was made up of 156 public servants of both genders, mean age of 39.8±12.3 years, working for a federal university of the Northeastern region of Brazil, who have answered a questionnaire with variables related to pain, sedentary behavior and practice of physical activity. For descriptive analysis data were expressed in mean, standard deviation, absolute and relative frequency. Regression analysis was used to estimate prevalence ratios and confidence interval of 95%. For adjusted analysis, all variables were included in the model, considering p≤0.05 significantly associated to the outcome.


The prevalence of sedentary behavior watching TV was 24.4% and at work it was 88.5%. Approximately 65% of the sample were poorly physically active. Pain was reported by 76.3% of the sample. After adjusting for gender, age and physical activity, those spending more than two hours a day sitting watching TV and remaining sitting at work were subgroups with highest possibilities of having pain (p<.0.05).


Approximately eight out of ten employees have reported musculoskeletal pain. From investigated behaviors, it was observed that servants spending a lot of time sitting had higher probability of reporting pain.

Keywords: Adults; Employees; Musculoskeletal pain; Physical activity; Sedentary behavior



Das ações habituais que refletem o estilo de vida dos que exercem função laboral administrativa, destaca-se o comportamento sedentário. O objetivo deste estudo foi associar a prevalência de dor com o comportamento sedentário e nível de atividade física de servidores públicos.


A amostra foi constituída por 156 servidores públicos, de ambos os gêneros, média de idade de 39,8±12,3 anos, lotados em uma universidade federal do Nordeste do Brasil, que responderam a um questionário com variáveis relativas a dor, comportamento sedentário e prática de atividade física. Para análise descritiva foram expressos valores de média, desvio padrão, frequência absoluta e relativa. Empregou-se a análise de regressão para estimativas de razões de prevalências e intervalos de confiança de 95%. Na análise ajustada, todas as variáveis foram incluídas no modelo. Considerou-se significativamente associado ao desfecho um valor de p≤0,05.


A prevalência de comportamento sedentário vendo TV foi de 24,4% e no trabalho foi de 88,5%. Aproximadamente 65% da amostra eram insuficientemente ativos fisicamente. A presença de dor foi reportada por 76,3% da amostra. Após ajuste pelo gênero, idade e atividade física, aqueles que passavam mais de duas horas por dia sentados à frente da TV e ficavam sentados no trabalho foram os subgrupos com maiores probabilidades de presença de dor (p<.0,05).


Aproximadamente 8 em 10 trabalhadores reportaram dor musculoesquelética. Dos comportamentos investigados foi verificado que servidores que passavam muito tempo sentados tinham maiores probabilidades de reportar dor.

Descritores: Adultos; Atividade física; Comportamento sedentário; Dor musculoesquelética; Trabalhador


Either chronic or acute, pain is a public health problem due to its high prevalence, high costs and negative impact on functional aspects1. Pain affects physical activities, sleep, sexual life, mood and self-esteem and leads to negative thoughts. It also changes family relationships and is among major causes of absenteeism at work2.

Workers are the most affected population by acute or chronic pain and for this reason pain-related studies should be carried out aiming at reinforcing available results and enhancing evidences about the relationship between factors possibly determining such outcome3. In this sense, from the set of routine actions which reflect the lifestyle of contemporary adults, especially those in administrative functions, there is the sedentary behavior, due to the high number of hours sitting to which such workers are submitted.

Decreased physical activity levels and increased time sitting have led to a complex set of relationships between daily energy expenditure and health4. Physiologic processes resulting from lack of muscle contraction may cause negative effects on major cell and molecule mechanisms, including the negative relationship of inactivity of lower limb muscles and posture maintenance5.

Physical inactivity and sedentary behavior are different concepts. Individuals are physically inactive when they do not meet current physical activity recommendations6. Sedentary behavior, on the other hand, is expressed by the proportion of daily time spent in activities with intensity below 1.5 MET, especially time sitting7.

Health professionals, when identifying existing pattern in the investigated environment, may propose more effective actions for pain control.

So, the primary objective of this study was to estimate pain prevalence and to evaluate the association between this outcome with enough practice of leisure physical activity and prolonged sedentary behavior time among public servants of a city from the Northeastern of Brazil.


This is a cross-sectional study. Target population was made up of public servants of the Universidade Federal de Alagoas - UFAL, Maceió-AL campus, Northeastern of Brazil. Studied population was made up of servants working at institution's rectory building, in a total of 310 individuals. To characterize the sample, it was determined by convenience that 50% of servants should participate in the study, being selected by simple randomized sampling. A drawing was performed in each sector considering the number of servants in that place. Each sector was previously visited to schedule time to collect relevant variables. There were seven refusals in four sectors, being replaced by servants of the same sector. At the end, participated in the study 156 servants of both genders with mean age of 39.8±12.3 years. Outcome variable was chronic pain, being characterized as verbal report of pain for more than six months in a same site, using a dichotomous item (yes or no)8. A body map was used to locate pain, where participants were asked to indicate painful regions. Pain intensity was evaluated by means of a numeric scale graded from zero to 10, where zero means no pain and 10 means the worst imaginable pain, being classified as follows: 1-4 (mild pain); 5-7 (moderate pain); 8-10 (severe pain)9,10.

With regard to sedentary behaviors, two indicators were used: time sitting watching TV and time sitting at work; in general these are behaviors occupying most time of people and have better measurements in terms of validity and reproducibility11. Time watching TV was dichotomized in low (≤2h) and high (>2h)2. At work, answers were classified in time sitting: low (≤3.5h), moderate (3.6 to 5.5h) and high (≥5.6h)13.

The leisure physical activity section of the international physical activity questionnaire (IPAQ) long form was used to identify the practice of physical activity. This component was divided into complying or not with the recommendation of 150 minutes per week of physical activity, based on IPAQ questions on hiking and practicing of moderate or intense physical activity14.

Form with relevant variables was self-applied. Data were collected by two evaluators in November and December 2014. During tool application, one evaluator would be around to solve any type of question during form filling. Participants have signed the Free and Informed Consent Term (FICT).

Statistical analysis

Data were tabulated and analyzed by the SPSS version 21 spreadsheet. Descriptive statistics with mean and standard deviation was used for age, and absolute and relative frequency was used for remaining variables. Poisson regression analysis with robust variance adjustment, raw and adjusted, was used to estimate prevalence ratios and 95% confidence interval. In the adjusted analysis, all variables were included in the model, regardless of raw analysis p value. Interaction terms were verified among all predictors, however no interaction was found among variables. A value of p≤±0.05 was considered significantly associated to the outcome.

This study was approved by UFAL Ethics Committee under registry 37817114.1.0000.5013.


Mean age of 156 investigated servants was 39.8±12.3 years. Most servants were females (60.3). The prevalence of sedentary behavior watching TV was 24.4% (>2 h/day) and of sedentary behavior at work was 88.5% (>3,5h/day). Approximately 65% of the sample were insufficiently physically active. Pain was present in 76.3% (Table 1).

Table 1 Investigated sample characteristics 

Variables n % (CI95%)
Female 94 60.3 (32.2-47.7)
Male 62 39.7 (52.2-67.7)
Age (mean±SD) 156 39.8 (12.3)
Time sitting (TV)
≤2h/day 118 75.6 (68.2-81.7)
>2h/day 38 24.4 (18.2-31.7)
Time sitting (Work)
≤3.5h/day 18 11.5 (7.3-17.6)
3.6 to 5.5h/day 34 21.8 (15.9-29.0)
≥5.6h/day 104 66.7 (58.8-73.6)
Physical activity
Physically active 55 35.3 (28.0-43.2)
Physically inactive 101 64.7 (56.8-71.9)
No 37 23.7 (17.6-31.1)
Yes 119 76.3 (68.8-82.3)

CI = confidence interval; SD = standard deviation.

Among servants reporting pain (n=119) (Table 2) most had excessive sedentary behavior at work and with regard to watching TV per day (p=0.038) (p=0.034). Back pain was reported by 63.0% of those reporting pain (p=0.010). Raw analysis of the association between pain and independent variables has found that those spending more than two hours per day watching TV had higher probability of reporting presence of the outcome. Servants reporting sitting for more than 3.5h per day at work had higher probability of reporting pain. After adjusting by gender, age and practice of physical activity, those spending more than two hours per day watching TV (PR: 1.2; CI95%: 1.1-1.3) and those remaining sitting at work (3.6 to 5.5h/day, PR: 1.2; CI95%: 1.1-1.4; ≥5.6h/day, PR: 1.3; CI95%: 1.1-1.6) were the subgroups with highest probabilities of reporting pain (Table 3).

Table 2 Profile of people reporting pain 

Variables Pain presence
n % (CI95%) p value
Female 72 76.6 (63.2-85.0) 0.910
Male 47 75.8 (66.8-84.1)
Age (mean±SD) 119 40.1 (12.2)
Time sitting (TV)
≤2h/day 86 72.9 (64.0-80.2) 0.038*
>2h/day 33 86.8 (71.1-94.6)
Time sitting (work)
≤3.5h/day 11 61.1 (35.4-81.7) 0.034*
3.6 to 5.5h/day 31 91.2 (74.7-97.2)
≥5.6h/day 77 74.0 (64.6-81.6)
Physical activity
Physically active 41 74.5 (61.0-84.5) 0.707
Physically inactive 78 77.2 (67.8-84.4)
Back Pain
No 44 37.0 (28.6-46.1) 0.010*
Yes 75 63.0 (53.8-71.3)
Pain intensity
Mild 32 26.9 (19.6-35.6) 0.153
Moderate 49 41.2 (32.5-50.3)
Severe 38 31.9 (24.0-40.9)

CI = confidence interval; SD = standard deviation;

*p-value ≤0.05 (Chi-square test to compare proportions).

Table 3 Poisson regression analysis with prevalence ratio estimates and 95% confidence interval of the association between pain and independent variables. 

Variables Raw analysis Adjusted analysis§
PR (CI95%) p-value PR (CI95%) p value
Time sitting (TV)
≤2h/day 1.0 0.039* 1.0 0.021*
>2h/day 1.2 (1.1-1.2) 1.2 (1.1-1.3)
Time sitting (Work)
≤3.5h/day 1.0 0.007* 1.0 0.005*
3.6 to 5.5h/day 1.2 (1.1-1.5) 1.2 (1.1-1.4)
≥5.6h/day 1.1 (0.9-1.2) 1.3 (1.1-1.6)
Physical activity
Physically active 1.0 0.710 1.0 0.891
Physically inactive 1.0 (0.9-1.1) 1.1 (0.9-1.2)

PR = prevalence ratio; CI = confidence interval;

p-value <0.05;

§Adjusted analysis for all variables, regardless of raw analysis p value.


Considering that one major reason for public servants medical leave, both in Brazil and in developed countries such as England and Sweden, are musculoskeletal system and connective tissue diseases15-17 It is necessary for public institutions to verify health conditions of their employees. A prevalence of 76.3% of chronic pain was found among investigated servants in this study. In a study with 505 servants of the Universidade Estadual de Londrina8, with majority also of females, an also high prevalence of 61.4% of chronic pain was found.

When identifying determining factors in a population-based study in Brazil, the number of subjects exposed to sedentary behavior in the five investigated domains has shown that time watching TV and time sitting at work were among the three more prevalent behaviors18. Static positions maintained for long periods and frequent use of computers are factors commonly associated to muscle tension, discomfort, fatigue and musculoskeletal pain, which may evolve to decreased functional capacity and disability19. In our study, sedentary behavior observed by means of variables watching TV and time sitting at work was significant among those reporting pain.

Overuse of chair may lead to fatigue and overload of passive joint elements, causing desensitization of tissue mechanoreceptors and consequent decrease or elimination of deep stabilizing strength, increasing the probability of musculoskeletal changes20. In a systematic review on the efficacy of ergonomic adjustments in chairs in the working place to decrease musculoskeletal symptoms, authors have concluded that amount, level and quality of evidences are just moderate and that recommendations could not be made in this sense21. It seems that sitting for long times is the major determining factor to be fought, considering that muscles helping posture maintenance suffer metabolic and neural interference when muscle contraction is decreased22.

Body region with significant prevalence of pain in the investigated population was the spine (63%). Literature has reported that back pain is more frequent in workers spending long times in the sitting position23. Possible justification for this situation is that the sitting position may decrease joint mobility, in addition to fatiguing spinal extensor muscles, impairing spinal stability and alignment. Such biomechanical disorders are considered important etiologic factors for the development of acute and chronic back pain24. Adequate fitness levels (muscle flexibility and strength/resistance) may contribute to body posture during labor activities with energy sparing and without exceeding tolerable muscle-tissue limits, and may be a protective factor against back pain25.

With regard to pain intensity, a study with 74 patients of the Teaching Hospital, Universidade Federal do Maranhão, Brazil, has observed that most patients, especially the group of workers, have reported moderate pain (52.6%), being that labor activity would increase pain intensity26. Among servants of our study, although a higher prevalence of moderate pain, there has been no significant difference as compared to other pain intensities. Anyway, regardless of intensity reported by employees, such pain should be prevented.

Our study has not found significant associations between leisure physical activity and pain among investigated servants. A study carried out in a university, with sample with characteristics similar to our study, has also not found association between physical activity level and presence or musculoskeletal pain27. A possible justification for this lack of association could have been the investigated physical activity domain (leisure) which may not be the most effective way to capture relationships with pain among employees spending long times sitting. This is reinforced because there are evidences that physical exercise programs in the workplace decrease the presence of musculoskeletal pain among employees28. So, if our study had investigated the domain of physical activity at work, results could have been different. Physical activity leads to muscle contraction which causes beneficial circular and metabolic adaptations of skeletal muscles and connective tissues, contributing for better static and dynamic posture, decreasing the risk of musculoskeletal and metabolic injuries and disabilities29-31.

Our results confirm the literature, that is, even among people practicing moderate to intense physical activity during leisure, long time in the sitting position may promote noxious effects to health, such as the presence of pain. This suggests that such behavior, per se, is just a potential risk factor for people's health, with the need to evaluate both sedentary and physical activity behaviors32,33.


From investigated behaviors, it was observed that servants spending long times sitting (at home and at work) had higher probability of reporting pain. Strategies to decrease time sitting, both at work and at home, should be developed to try to decrease the prevalence of pain. New investigations about the causal role of sedentary behavior on health, especially musculoskeletal pain, are, then, necessary.

Sponsoring sources: none.


1 Blyth F. Chronic pain-is it a public health problem? Pain. 2008;137(3):465-6. [ Links ]

2 Salvetti MG, Pimenta CA. Validação da Chronic Pain Self-Efficacy Scale para a língua portuguesa. Rev Psiq Clín. 2005;32(4):202-10. [ Links ]

3 Cipriano A, Almeida DB, Vall J. Perfil do paciente com dor crônica atendido em um ambulatório de dor de uma grande cidade do sul do Brasil. Rev Dor. 2011;12(4):297-300. [ Links ]

4 Proper KI, Singh AS, van Mechelen M, Chinapaw MJM. Sedentary behaviors and health outcomes among adults a systematic review of prospective studies. Am J Prev Med. 2011;40(2):174-82. [ Links ]

5 Bey L, Akunuri N, Zhao P, Hoffman EP, Hamilton DG, Hamilton MT. Patterns of global gene expression in rat skeletal muscle during unloading and low-intensity ambulatory activity. Physiol Genomics. 2003;13(2):157-67. [ Links ]

6 Haskel WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, Powell KE, Blair SN, Franklin BA, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2007;116:1081-93. [ Links ]

7 Pate RR, O'Neill JR, Lobelo F. The evolving definition of "sedentary". Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2008;36:173-8. [ Links ]

8 Kreling MC, Cruz DA, Pimenta CA. Prevalência de dor crônica em adultos. Rev Bras Enferm. 2006;59(4):509-13. [ Links ]

9 Pimenta CA; Cruz DA; Santos JL. Instrumentos para avaliação da dor: o que há de novo em nosso meio. Arq Bras Neurocir. 1998;17(1):15-24. [ Links ]

10 Silva JA, Ribeiro Filho NP. Avaliação e mensuração da dor: pesquisa, teoria e prática. São Paulo: Funpec, 2006. [ Links ]

11 Salmon J, Owen N, Crawford D, Bauman A, Sallis JF. Physical activity and sedentary behavior: a population-based study of barriers, enjoyment, and preference. Health Psychology. 2003;22(2):178-88. [ Links ]

12 Stamatakis E, Hamer M, Dunstan DW. Screen-based entertainment time, all-cause mortality, and cardiovascular events: population-based study with ongoing mortality and hospital events follow-up. J. Am Coll Cardiol. 2011;57(3):292-9. [ Links ]

13 Miller R, Brown W. Steps and sitting in a working population. Int J Behav Med. 2004;11(4):219-24. [ Links ]

14 WHO. World Health Organization.Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Geneva: WHO; 2010. [ Links ]

15 Feeney A, North F, Head J, Canner R, Marmot M. Socioeconomic and sex differentials in reason for sickness absence from the Whitehaall II Study. Occup Environ Med. 1998;55(1):91-8. [ Links ]

16 Vingard E, Lindberg P, Josephson M, Voss M, Heijbel B, Alfredsson L, et al. Long-term sick-listing among women in the public sector and its associations with age, social situation, lifestyle, and work factors: a three-year follow-up study. Scan. J Public Health. 2005;33(5):370-5. [ Links ]

17 Cunha JB, Blank VL, Boing AF. Tendência temporal de afastamento do trabalho em servidores públicos (1995-2005). Rev Bras Epidemiol. 2009;12(2):226-36. [ Links ]

18 Mielke GI, Silva IC, Owen N, Hallal PC. Brazilian Adults' Sedentary by Life Domain: population-based study. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(3):e91614. [ Links ]

19 Podniece Z, Taylor TN, European Agency for Safey and Health at Work. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders: prevention report. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities; 2008. [ Links ]

20 Dankaerts W, O'Sullivan P, Burnett A, Straker L. Altered patterns of superficial trunk muscle activation during sitting in nonspecific chronic low back pain patients: importance of subclassification. Spine. 2006;31(17):2017-23. [ Links ]

21 Niekerk S-M, Loum QA, Hiller S. The effectiveness of a chair intervention in the workplace to reduce musculoskeletal symptoms. A systematic review. BMC Musculoeskeletal Disorders. 2012;13:145. [ Links ]

22 Panjabi MM. A hypothesis of chronic back pain: ligament subfailure injuries lead to muscle control dysfunction. Eur Spine J. 2006;15(5):668-76. [ Links ]

23 Barros SS, Angelo RC, Uchôa EP. Lombalgia ocupacional e a postura sentada. Rev Dor. 2011;12(3):226-30. [ Links ]

24 Sacco IC, Aliberti S, Queiroz BW, Pripas D, Kieling I, Kimura AA, et al. A influência da ocupação profissional na flexibilidade global e nas amplitudes angulares dos membros inferiores e da lombar. Rev Bras Cineantropom Desempenho Humano. 2009;11(1):51-8. [ Links ]

25 Toscano JJ, Egypto EP. A influência do sedentarismo na prevalência de lombalgia. Rev Bras Med Esporte. 2001;7(4):132-7. [ Links ]

26 Garcia BT, Vieira EB, Garcia JB. Relação entre dor crônica e atividade laboral em pacientes portadores de síndromes dolorosas. Rev Dor. 2013;14(3):204-9. [ Links ]

27 Souza AV, Cardoso JP, Rocha SV, Amorim, CR, Carneiro, LR, Vilela AB. Nível de atividade física e lombalgia entre funcionários de uma instituição de ensino superior no nordeste do Brasil. Rev Bras Prom Saúde. 2011;24(3):199-206. [ Links ]

28 Lima VA, Aquilas AL, Ferreira Júnior M. Efeitos de um programa de exercícios físicos no local de trabalho sobre a percepção de dor musculoesquelética em trabalhadores de escritório. Rev Bras Med Trab. 2009;7:11-7. [ Links ]

29 Reis PF, Moro AR, Contijo LA. A importância da manutenção de bons níveis de flexibilidade nos trabalhadores que executam suas atividades laborais sentados. Rev Prod On Line. 2003;3(3). Disponível em: ]

30 Souza, JB. Poderia a atividade física induzir analgesia em pacientes com dor crônica? Rev Bras Med Esporte. 2009;15(2):145-50. [ Links ]

31 Zderic TW, Hamilton MT. Physical inactivity amplifies the sensitivity of skeletal muscle to the lipid-induced downregulation of lipoprotein lipase activity. J Appl Physiol. 2006;100(1):249-57. [ Links ]

32 Castillo-Retamal M, Hinckson EA. Measuring physical activity and sedentary behavior at work: a review. Work. 2011;40(4):345-57. [ Links ]

33 Proper KI, Singh AS, Mechelen W, Chinapaw MJ. Sedentary behaviors and health outcomes among adults: a systematic review. Am J Prev Med. 2011;40(2):174-82. [ Links ]

Accepted: April 26, 2016

Correspondence to: Av. Lourival Melo Mota, s/n - Tabuleiro dos Martins 57072-900 Maceió, AL, Brasil. E-mail:

Conflict of interests: none

Creative Commons License Este é um artigo publicado em acesso aberto (Open Access) sob a licença Creative Commons Attribution, que permite uso, distribuição e reprodução em qualquer meio, sem restrições desde que o trabalho original seja corretamente citado.