A study of nurses' perceptions and attitudes about the causes and prevention of occupational back pain was conducted. The study group consisted of 68 registered nurses, 62 females, average age 33.75 years, at a large urban tertiary care hospital. The nurses were interviewed to obtain information about their personal characteristics, back pain history, job description, and methods they used to prevent back pain. They were asked to identify tasks which they believed would cause back pain. The subjects felt that patient oriented tasks such as transferring patients from beds to chairs and pulling patients up in bed led to back pain more frequently than nonpatient directed tasks such as moving furniture or lifting and carrying equipment. Exercising, obtaining drug treatment, relaxing, wearing support shoes, seeing a health practitioner, seeking assistance, and raising bed heights were most frequently cited as activities the nurses did to prevent back pain. Better training, exercising more frequently, enlarging the staff, obtaining more male nurses, obtaining better equipment, and changing the hours of work were frequently mentioned as things that should be done to prevent back pain. Formal classes in body mechanics and hospital orientation were the most frequently cited sources from which the subjects learned about preventing back pain. The authors conclude that nurses believe that patient oriented tasks, especially those involving patient transfer account for most occupational back pain. This contradicts many earlier studies which found that environmental factors are important. Nursing education should encourage nurses to think broadly about the causes of occupational back pain.