Upper limb symptoms in hand-intensive healthcare occupations
This study has found the annual prevalence of upper limb (UL) symptoms in physiotherapists in at least one site to be 78%.
Most affected regions were the shoulder, neck, and thumbs; 21% of therapists reported incapacitating symptoms, and interestingly, it was found that hospital-based therapists had a significantly higher prevalence of incapacitating symptoms.
The high prevalence of UL symptoms should warrant the attention of occupational health teams in terms of prevention strategies and risk assessment.
Research on work-related musculoskeletal disorders in healthcare workers has focused mostly on back pain. However, the physiotherapy profession has high upper limb demands, which have comparatively been less studied despite the potential impact of UL disorders on daily practice.
A total of 347 physiotherapists, massage therapists and athletic trainers replied to a postal questionnaire containing the UL section of the Nordic questionnaire and questions about symptom onset, diagnosed UL disorders, and sociodemographics.
Besides the high prevalence already noted, it is noteworthy that almost half of the responders had symptoms lasting longer than 3 days.
Hospital-based therapists had a higher prevalence of complaints despite performing a lower amount of manual therapy work. Prevalence was high at all career phases, but most complaints originated after the first 5 years.
Despite having adjusted the results for the presence of leisure injuries, the authors warn that the cross-sectional nature of the study does not allow for the establishment of a causal relation.
Expert opinion by José Pedro Correia
This is a classic example of "do as I say, not as I do": time and time again, we find ourselves talking to patients about the importance of prevention, and countless prevention programs have been carefully designed, researched and published by physiotherapists; however, we still seem to not be very compliant with our own recommendations.
The authors of this study make an interesting recommendation to include measures during Physiotherapy college training to deal with this issue. Despite the fact that this is a cross-sectional study, which prevents a causal relationship from being established, these are still remarkable findings to say the least.
> From: Greiner et al., Phys Ther 99 (2019) 62-73 (Epub ahead of print). All rights reserved to American Physical Therapy Association. Click here for the online summary.