By Anne Harding
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Many different factors -- from being obese to using vibrating hand tools to having little authority to make decisions in the workplace -- seem to influence a person's risk of developing certain work-related injuries, French researchers report.
Aging, along with on-the-job constraints, "drastically" increased workers' risk of such injuries, Dr. Yves Roquelaure of the Universite d'Angers, the study's author, noted in an email to Reuters Health. Given the aging of the workforce and "work intensification" going on in many countries, both industry and government should step up their efforts to prevent these injuries, Roquelaure advised.
The investigators surveyed 3,710 French workers, 472 of whom had been diagnosed with at least one upper extremity musculoskeletal disorder -- a collective term for conditions affecting the muscles, joints, nerves and bones of the hands, arms and shoulders. Rotator cuff syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome are two of the most common types of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorder.
Increasing age and a history of one of these types of disorders emerged as the strongest risk factors for upper extremity muscle disorders in both men and women.
For men, other risk factors included being obese, having a very physically or psychologically demanding job, doing highly repetitive tasks and working while holding the arms at or above shoulder level or flexing the elbows fully.
Risks were different for women, and included having diabetes, "extreme" wrist bending, using vibrating hand tools, and having a low level of decision making authority at work.
The wide variety of risk factors makes it clear that preventing these disorders is a "complicated challenge," Roquelaure noted.
"The study suggests that multidimensional interventions are needed, including education, correction of individual risk factors if possible (e.g., treatment of diabetes mellitus) and reduction of work exposure to biomechanical constraints and stress," he added.
Efforts at the individual and organizational level to improve the workplace environment -- and engage workers in these efforts -- "seem to be an appropriate strategy for reducing the physical demands and the symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders, even if epidemiological evidences of their efficacy are still limited," the researcher concluded.
SOURCE: Arthritis & Rheumatism, October 15, 2009.