Repetitive Tasks Tax the Bones

Such work can cause bone damage, a new study finds

SUNDAY, Dec. 7, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Highly repetitive work tasks, which are a risk factor for such musculoskeletal disorders as carpal tunnel syndrome, cause bone damage, says a Temple University study.

"Because multiple factors play a role in [work-related musculoskeletal disorders] WMSD, including work tasks, home activities and medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, we studied work tasks alone to isolate their impact," study author Ann Barr, an associate professor of physical therapy, says in a prepared statement.

"This information is critical in helping industry and medicine establish workplace guidelines to prevent WMSD," she says.

Barr and her colleagues showed how tissue damage can cause symptoms of WMSD by analyzing behaviors in rats, such as decreased movement performance and task avoidance.

"These behaviors increased according to the rate of repetition. The higher the repetition, the more severe the symptoms," Barr says.

The researchers weren't surprised by the nature of the tissue damage observed in the rats or the resulting behaviors. But they didn't expect it to begin as early as it did.

"Carpal tunnel syndrome usually takes a long time to develop, yet we started seeing evidence of tissue damage within three to six weeks. This finding suggests that we may be able to intervene earlier in the development of the disorder and prevent further, more severe damage," Barr says.

The study appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

This is the latest in a series of studies by Barr and her colleagues.

"Our studies have shown a direct relationship between repetitive, low force movement and the inflammation of muscles, bone, nerves and connective tissue typical of WMSD," Barr says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about WMSD.

SOURCE: Temple University, news release, November 2003
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