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Working in a cold environment, feeling cold at work and chronic pain: a cross-sectional analysis of the Tromsø Study
  1. Erlend Hoftun Farbu1,
  2. Morten Skandfer1,
  3. Christopher Nielsen2,3,
  4. Tormod Brenn1,
  5. Audun Stubhaug3,4,
  6. Anje Christina Höper1,5
  1. 1 Department of Community Medicine, UiT Norges arktiske universitet, Tromso, Norway
  2. 2 Department of Chronic Diseases and Ageing, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway
  3. 3 Department of Pain Management and Research, Oslo Universitetssykehus, Oslo, Norway
  4. 4 Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo Faculty of Medicine, Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  5. 5 Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University Hospital of North Norway, Tromso, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Dr Erlend Hoftun Farbu; erlend.h.farbu{at}


Aim The aim of this study was to investigate if working in a cold environment and feeling cold at work are associated with chronic pain (ie, lasting ≥3 months).

Methods We used data from the sixth survey (2007–2008) of the Tromsø Study. Analyses included 6533 men and women aged 30–67 years who were not retired, not receiving full-time disability benefits and had no missing values. Associations between working in a cold environment, feeling cold at work and self-reported chronic pain were examined with logistic regression adjusted for age, sex, education, body mass index, insomnia, physical activity at work, leisure time physical activity and smoking.

Results 779 participants reported working in a cold environment ≥25% of the time. This exposure was positively associated with pain at ≥3 sites (OR 1.57; 95% CI 1.23 to 2.01) and with neck, shoulder and leg pain, but not with pain at 1–2 sites. Feeling cold sometimes or often at work was associated with pain at ≥3 sites (OR 1.58; 95% CI 1.22 to 2.07 and OR 3.90; 95% CI 2.04 to 7.45, respectively). Feeling cold often at work was significantly and positively associated with pain at all sites except the hand, foot, stomach and head.

Conclusion Working in a cold environment was significantly associated with chronic pain. The observed association was strongest for pain at musculoskeletal sites and for those who often felt cold at work.

  • epidemiology
  • occupational & industrial medicine
  • public health

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  • Collaborators Lisbeth Aasmoe contributed to the data acquisition of questions regarding work in the cold from the 6th survey of the Tromsø Study.

  • Contributors EHF, ACH and MS designed the study. EHF conducted the data analysis and wrote the manuscript with the assistance of ACH and MS. TB assisted in the analysis. All authors contributed to the interpretation and revised the manuscript. CN and AS contributed to the data acquisition of questions regarding pain from the 6th survey of the Tromsø Study. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding This particular study has been funded by UiT—The Arctic University of Norway. The 6th survey of The Tromsø Study is a collaboration between the Northern Norway Regional Health Authority, UiT—The Arctic University of Norway, Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services, Troms County and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The publication charges for this article have been funded by a grant from the publication fund of UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data are available by applying to The Tromsø Study