A critical review on physical factors and functional characteristics that may explain a sex/gender difference in work-related neck/shoulder disorders

Ergonomics. 2012;55(2):173-82. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2011.586061. Epub 2011 Aug 17.


The objective of this paper is to critically review recent literature on physical and functional sex/gender (s/g) differences, with focus on physical determinants associated with neck/shoulder musculoskeletal injuries. It is well known that there are s/g differences in anthropometrical and functional body characteristics (e.g. size and strength). However, s/g differences may be wrongly attributed if data analysis does not include appropriate corrections (e.g. by strength for endurance). Recent literature on motor control shows that there may indeed be s/g differences in muscle coordination and movement strategies during upper limb tasks that are not currently explained by methodological inadequacies. Moreover, recent studies have shown differences between men and women in sensory hypersensitivity characteristics associated with neck/shoulder injuries. Taken together, the literature points to the importance of accounting for possible s/g differences at all levels of the biopsychosocial system in order to better understand sex- and gender-specific issues relevant to workplace health.

Practitioner summary: This article critically reviews recent literature and a conceptual model highlighting s/g differences in physical and functional characteristics related to neck/shoulder musculoskeletal disorders (NSMSD). Findings have implications on understanding how personal factors may affect NSMSD risk. With better understanding, practitioners can make more appropriate decisions to prevent work-related NSMSD.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology
  • Muscle Strength / physiology
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / etiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / physiopathology*
  • Neck Injuries / etiology*
  • Neck Pain / etiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Injuries / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Shoulder Injuries