Prevalence and impact of musculoskeletal disorders of the upper limb in the general population

Arthritis Rheum. 2004 Aug 15;51(4):642-51. doi: 10.1002/art.20535.


Objective: To determine the prevalence, interrelation, and impact of musculoskeletal disorders of the upper limb in the general population.

Methods: A total of 9,696 randomly selected adults of working age were surveyed in a 2-stage cross-sectional study involving a screening questionnaire and a standardized physical examination in symptomatic subjects. Age- and sex-specific prevalence rates were estimated for several musculoskeletal disorders and for nonspecific pain in the upper limbs. The overlap and impact on daily activities and healthcare utilization were explored.

Results: Among 6,038 first-stage responders, 3,152 reported upper limb symptoms and 1,960 were subsequently examined. Of subjects with pain, 44.8% had 1 or more specific soft-tissue disorders. Site-specific prevalence rates were as follows: shoulder tendinitis 4.5% among men and 6.1% among women; adhesive capsulitis 8.2% among men and 10.1% among women; lateral epicondylitis 1.3% among men and 1.1% among women; de Quervain's disease 0.5% among men and 1.3% among women; other tenosynovitis of the hand or wrist, 1.1% among men and 2.2% among women. Specific disorders tended to cluster (P < 0.001) in individuals, with particular overlap at the shoulder. Compared with subjects with nonspecific pain, those with specific disorders more often reported inability to perform everyday tasks (P < 0.05), consultation with a doctor (P < 0.05), and use of prescribed medication (P < 0.05).

Conclusion: Upper limb pain is common in the general population and is often associated with physical signs suggestive of specific upper-limb disorders. These disorders have a substantial impact on physical function and use of health care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Elbow Joint
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Rheumatic Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Shoulder Joint
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Wrist Joint