Understanding work-related upper extremity disorders: clinical findings in 485 computer users, musicians, and others

J Occup Rehabil. 2001 Mar;11(1):1-21. doi: 10.1023/a:1016647923501.


Four hundred eighty five patients whose chief complaints were work related pain and other symptoms received a comprehensive upper-body clinical evaluation to determine the extent of their illness. The group had a mean age of 38.5 years. Sixty-three percent of patients were females. Seventy percent were computer users, 28% were musicians, and 2% were others engaged in repetitive work. The time between the onset of symptoms and our initial visit ranged from 2 weeks to over 17 years. A majority sought care within 30 months with the greatest number of them seeking care before 12 months. Fifty nine percent of subjects were still working when seen despite increasing pain and symptoms such as weakness, numbness, tingling, and stiffness. Following a history, a physical assessment utilizing commonly employed clinical tests were performed including evaluation of joint range of motion, hyperlaxity, muscle tenderness, pain, strength, and imbalance. Neurologic tests included Tinel's sign performed in wrist, elbow, tricipital sulcus, and neck and tests for thoracic out syndrome (TOS). Specific tests such as Finkelstein's test for deQuervain's tenosynovitis, Phalen's test for carpal tunnel syndrome and grip strengths were included in the examination protocol. Significant findings included postural misalignment with protracted shoulders (78%), head forward position (71%), neurogenic TOS (70%), cervical radiculopathy (0.03%), evidence of sympathetic dysfunction (20%), and complex regional pain syndrome (RSD) (0.6%). Hyperlaxity of fingers and elbows was found in over 50%, carpal tunnel syndrome in 8%, radial tunnel syndrome in 7%, cubital tunnel in 64%, shoulder impingement in 13%, medial epicondylitis in 60%, lateral epicondylitis in 33%, and peripheral muscle weakness in 70%. We conclude that despite initial presentation distally, work-related upper-extremity disorders are a diffuse neuromuscular illness with significant proximal upper-body findings that affect distal function. While neurogenic TOS remains a controversial diagnosis, the substantial number of patients with positive clinical findings in this study lends weight to the concept that posture related neurogenic TOS is a key factor in the cascading series of physical events that characterize this illness. A comprehensive upper-body examination produces findings that cannot be obtained through laboratory tests and surveys alone and lays the ground work for generating hypotheses about the etiology of work related upper-extremity disorders that can be tested in controlled investigations.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arm
  • Back
  • Chronic Disease
  • Computer Terminals
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / etiology
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Joints
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / etiology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Music
  • Neck
  • New York City / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Physical Examination
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome / etiology
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome / physiopathology*