Purpose: The present study aimed to estimate possible differences in upper body muscular load between male and female house painters performing identical work tasks. Sex-related differences in muscular load may help explain why women, in general, have more musculoskeletal complaints than men.
Methods: In a laboratory setting, 16 male and 16 female house painters performed nine standardised work tasks common to house painters. Unilateral electromyography (EMG) recordings were obtained from the supraspinatus muscle by intramuscular electrodes and from the trapezius, extensor and flexor carpi radialis muscles by surface electrodes. Relative muscular loads in %EMGmax as well as exerted force in Newton, based on ramp calibrations, were assessed. Sex differences were tested using a mixed model approach.
Results: Women worked at about 50% higher relative muscular loads than men in the supraspinatus and forearm muscles at all percentiles and in all tasks. Women exerted about 30% less force in the trapezius muscle at the 50th percentile.
Conclusions: Female house painters had a higher relative muscular load than their male colleagues without exerting more force. The effects of a higher relative muscular load accumulated over years of work may in part explain why musculoskeletal complaints in the upper body occur more frequently among women than men.