Objectives: To examine the dose-response relationship between cumulative duration of work with highly elevated arms (work above shoulder level) as well as of manual material handling and ruptures of the supraspinatus tendon in a population-based case-control study.
Methods: In 14 radiologic practices, we recruited 483 male patients aged 25-65 with radiographically confirmed partial (n = 385) or total (n = 98) supraspinatus tears associated with shoulder pain. A total of 300 male control subjects were recruited. Data were gathered in a structured personal interview. To calculate cumulative exposure, the self-reported duration of lifting/carrying of heavy loads (>20 kg) as well as the duration of work with highly elevated arms was added up over the entire working life.
Results: The results of our study support a dose-response relationship between cumulative duration of work with highly elevated arms and symptomatic supraspinatus tendon tears. For a cumulative duration of >3,195 h work above shoulder level, the risk of a supraspinatus tendon rupture is elevated to 2.0 (95% CI 1.1-3.5), adjusted for age, region, lifting/carrying of heavy loads, handheld vibration, apparatus gymnastics/shot put/javelin/hammer throwing/wrestling, and tennis. The cumulative duration of carrying/lifting of heavy loads also yields a positive dose-response relation with disease (independent from work above shoulder level and from handheld vibration), with an adjusted odds ratio of 1.8 (95% CI 1.0-3.2) in the highest exposure category (>77 h). We find an increased risk for subjects exposed to handheld vibration with an adjusted OR of 3.2 (95% CI 1.7-5.9) in the highest exposure category (16 years or more in the job with exposure), but a clear dose-response relationship is lacking.
Conclusions: This study points to a potential etiologic role of long-term cumulative effects of work with highly elevated arms and heavy lifting/carrying on shoulder tendon disorders.