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Disabling musculoskeletal pain in workers

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

A cross-sectional survey in 18 countries compared the prevalence of disabling low back pain (DLBP) and disabling wrist and hand pain (DWHP) among groups of workers carrying out similar physical activities in different cultural environments. Manolis Kogevinas, CREAL researcher, participated in this study published in Pain.

The findings indicate large international variation in the prevalence of disabling forearm and back pain among occupational groups carrying out similar tasks, which is only partially explained by the personal and socioeconomic risk factors that were analysed

In Europe, musculoskeletal disorders, especially of the back and upper limb, are the biggest single cause of incapacity for work, with direct costs amounting to between 0.5% and 2% of gross domestic product. In many cases they are attributed to mechanical stresses from occupational activities such as heavy lifting and repetitive movements of the wrist and hand, and this has prompted legislation requiring employers to ensure that methods of work are ergonomically sound.

Disabling symptoms among groups of workers

“We here present findings on low back and wrist and hand pain, in which we compare the frequency of disabling symptoms among groups of workers carrying out similar physical activities in different cultural and socioeconomic environments, and assess the extent to which variations in prevalence can be explained by inherent risk factors, including health beliefs and social security provisions”, explained Kogevinas, one of the participant researchers of the study.

The study, led by David Coggon, from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton (UK), was conducted by researchers in each of 18 countries. Standardised questionnaires were used to ascertain pain that interfered with everyday activities and exposure to possible risk factors in 12,426 participants from 47 occupational groups, mostly nurses and office workers. The DLBP tended to be relatively more common in nurses and DWHP in office workers. Established risk factors such as occupational physical activities and psychosocial aspects of work, were confirmed, and associations were found also with adverse health beliefs and group awareness of people outside work with musculoskeletal pain.

“Systems of compensation for work-related illness and financial support for health-related incapacity for work appeared to have little influence on the occurrence of symptoms”, concluded Kogevinas.

Reference: Coggon D, et al. Disabling musculoskeletal pain in working populations: Is it the job, the person, or the culture? Pain 2013; 154: 856-63.


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