Background: Few community-based epidemiological investigations of upper limb disorders (ULDs) have classified cases by validated procedures involving a structured clinical examination.
Aim: To compare risk factor profiles for different diagnostic categories of ULD using one such examination scheme.
Methods: A questionnaire about upper limb pain and demographic, occupational and psychosocial risk factors was mailed to 10,264 adults from two English general practices, followed by standardized physical examination in those with arm or neck pain. Logistic regression was used to compare those with specific ULDs and non-specific arm pain with those who had no neck or arm symptoms.
Results: There was a 59% response rate. A total of 1,197 subjects with arm or neck pain underwent standardized physical examination and were classified as having one or more of 11 specific ULDs or non-specific regional pain. Among these, 250 subjects with specific ULDs and 176 with only non-specific arm pain were compared with 2,248 subjects who had no neck or arm symptoms. Certain physical risk factors were more strongly associated with specific disorders than with non-specific pain. In comparison with pain-free subjects, the odds ratios (ORs) in keyboard users (>or=1 h versus <1 h/day) were 3.1 (95% CI 1.3, 7.8) for hand-wrist tendonitis but 1.3 (0.8, 2.1) for non-specific hand-wrist pain. Other differential associations were found with age, sex, manual versus non-manual employment and smoking. Unexpectedly, low vitality was similarly associated with both specific disorders and non-specific pain.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that the schedule may usefully distinguish disorders that differ in their association with physical risk factors.