Objectives: A longitudinal study was conducted to determine the predictability of personal and occupational factors with respect to the incidence of upper-limb disorders in occupations requiring repetitive work.
Methods: A sample of 598 workers in five activity sectors completed a self-administered questionnaire; the workers were examined by an occupational health physician in 1993-1994 and 3 years later. Three disorders were considered, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), lateral epicondylitis and wrist tendinitis.
Results: The results of this longitudinal study indicated that the following three sets of risk factors independently affect the incidence of upper-limb disorders: (i) biomechanical constraints, (ii) psychosocial factors, and (iii) personal factors. The combination of risk factors differed between CTS, lateral epicondylitis, and wrist tendinitis. The presence of psychosomatic problems was a strong predictor of wrist tendinitis. Social support at work was also associated with the incidence of wrist tendinitis. The presence of depressive symptoms and other upper-limb disorders predicted the first occurrence of lateral epicondylitis. Age was associated only with epicondylitis. The results were consistent with those concerning the role of forceful movements of the elbow for epicondylitis and confirmed the role of forceful movements for CTS.
Conclusions: This study considered different sets of risk factors simultaneously with a longitudinal approach, in a population with a high level of occupational exposure. The results indicate that three sets of risk factors independently affect the incidence of upper-limb disorders. In addition to biomechanical constraints, psychosocial and personal factors play a role.