Predicting the onset of forearm pain: a prospective study across 12 occupational groups

Arthritis Rheum. 2003 Aug 15;49(4):519-25. doi: 10.1002/art.11202.


Objective: To determine, among workers free of forearm pain, the role of mechanical and psychosocial factors in predicting future onset.

Methods: A prospective cohort study was conducted among 782 newly employed workers from 12 occupational groups. At baseline, a cohort of 782 workers free of forearm pain was identified and measurement was made about physical and psychosocial aspects of their job and working environment. Subjects were recontacted after 1 year to determine new onsets of forearm pain. A sample of those reporting new onset forearm pain underwent a structured examination of the upper limb.

Results: One year after baseline, 666 (85%) subjects were followed up. The overall prevalence of new onset forearm pain was 8.3% (n = 55). The strongest mechanical risk factor was frequent repetitive movements of the arm or wrist (odds ratio [OR] 2.9, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 1.6-5.2). The strongest psychosocial risk factors were work considered monotonous at least half of the time (OR 3.0, 95% CI 1.6-5.7) or work with little autonomy (OR 2.6, 95% CI 1.1-6.1). Three specific independent risk factors (monotonous work, repetitive wrist movement, working with hands above shoulder level) could distinguish groups of subjects at substantially different risks of onset.

Conclusions: Along with repetitive movements of the arms and wrists, mechanical postural factors and psychosocial factors also are important risk factors for onset of forearm pain. Our study emphasizes the multifactorial nature of risks for onset of forearm pain, and provides leads as to possible mechanisms for prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Forearm
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Shoulder Pain / diagnosis