Sixty-nine male and 103 female workers aged 45 and over in a cotton spinning mill in Bolton, Lancashire were examined clinically for rheumatic disease and had radiographs taken of the hands and feet and of the cervical, dorsal, and lumbar spine. To these were added the male and female cotton workers aged 45 and over from a random sample of the population of Leigh, giving a total of 117 males and 228 females. They were compared with a control group of 117 males and 228 females from random samples in Leigh and Wensleydale who had never worked in a cotton mill. These were matched by age and sex.
Rheumatic symptoms as a whole were less frequent in the cotton workers than in the controls and loss of work from rheumatic complaints was less frequent in the male cotton workers than in the male controls. Dorsal and chest pain were more common and caused more incapacity in both male and female cotton workers than in controls.
Heberden's nodes were present in 38% of male and 35% of female cotton workers compared with 12% and 22% respectively in the controls.
Radiological evidence of osteo-arthrosis was more frequent in the distal and proximal interphalangeal joints of the fingers and in the first carpo-metacarpal joints in the male cotton workers than in the controls. In the metacarpo-phalangeal joints of the fingers, the male cotton workers had much the same prevalence of osteo-arthrosis as the controls but it was more severe. The female cotton workers showed the same osteo-arthrosis joint pattern as the males and had similar prevalences in each joint, but did not differ substantially from the female controls.
There was no significant difference between the cotton workers and controls in respect of disk degeneration of the cervical spine, but in the dorsal and lumbar spine there was less disk degeneration in the cotton workers, the difference being greater in the females.