Pooling data from different epidemiological studies of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) is necessary to improve statistical power and to more precisely quantify exposure-response relationships for MSDs. The pooling process is difficult and time-consuming, and small methodological differences could lead to different exposure-response relationships. A sub-committee of a six-study research consortium studying carpal tunnel syndrome: (i) visited each study site, (ii) documented methods used to collect physical exposure data and (iii) determined compatibility of exposure variables across studies. Certain measures of force, frequency of exertion and duty cycle were collected by all studies and were largely compatible. A portion of studies had detailed data to investigate simultaneous combinations of force, frequency and duration of exertions. Limited compatibility was found for hand/wrist posture. Only two studies could calculate compatible Strain Index scores, but Threshold Limit Value for Hand Activity Level could be determined for all studies. Challenges of pooling data, resources required and recommendations for future researchers are discussed.
Practitioner summary: There is a need for standardised measures and measurement protocols of physical exposure for the upper extremity. This study may provide guidance for those planning to conduct an epidemiological study on quantified job physical exposures, or planning to merge physical exposure data from similar studies with some methodologic differences.