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Repetitive Work Tasks Found To Cause Bone Damage

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Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) make up about 65 percent of all occupational illnesses and cost industry tens of billions of dollars each year. Among the most significant are carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis and tendonitis.

While it cannot be definitely concluded that work tasks alone are the cause of WMSD such as carpal tunnel syndrome, a recent study at Temple University did implicate highly repetitive task work as a cause of bone damage.

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Ann Barr, P. T., PhD., associate professor of physical therapy at Temple University and the study’s lead author claimed the goal of the study was to isolate the impact of work tasks on the development of WMSD while ruling out other factors such as home activities, and medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. “This information is critical in helping industry and medicine establish workplace guidelines to prevent WMSD.”

“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,” concluded Barr. The latest study, “Repetitive, Negligible Force Reaching in Rats Induces Pathological Overloading of Upper Extremity Bones,” published in the November 11 issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, is the third in a series.

The interdisciplinary team of researchers analyzed behaviors in rats such as decreased movement performance and task avoidance. As the repetition increased so did the symptoms and avoidance behaviors. The researchers were surprised to see evidence of tissue damage in only 3-6 weeks.

The research group continues to study the effects of increasing or decreasing repetitive tasks on both tissue and behavior and they are beginning to identify markers of inflammation in patients with known WMSD.

“Future work will examine the long term effects of repetitive motion and the power of ergonomics or medication in preventing or lessening tissue damage,” concludes Barr.

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