To study the association between vertebral deformities and subjective health outcome indicators, including back pain and disability, a cross-sectional survey with spinal radiographs and personal interviews was carried out in 36 study centres in 19 European countries on a total of 15,570 men and women aged 50-79 years (population-based stratified random samples). No interventions were done. The main outcome measures were the presence and intensity of current and previous back pain, functional capacity (ADL questionnaire) and overall subjective health. The presence and intensity of back pain and functional and health impairments varied within wide ranges with no obvious regional pattern. However, the associations between negative health outcomes and vertebral deformity were homogeneous between countries and between centres within countries. In logistic regression analyses weak but significant associations between the presence of vertebral deformities and various health indicators were demonstrated. The magnitude of the associations increased with severity and number of deformities. Compared with subjects without deformities those with low-grade deformities had no or only a weakly elevated risk for back pain, disability and impaired subjective health (odds ratios (OR) 1.2-1.3). The odds ratios increased for individuals with single severe deformities (OR 1.3-2.1) and were highest in those with multiple severe deformities (OR 1.7-4.2). The associations between vertebral deformities and negative health outcomes were stronger in men than in women. In this cross-sectional study radiologically assessed vertebral deformities were therefore weakly associated with both current and previous back pain as well as with functional and health impairments in both women and men. Multiple severe deformities were associated with severe and disabling back pain with stronger effects in men.
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