According to a new study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, repetitiveness of certain work tasks can result in bone damage.
Dr. Ann Barr, an associate professor of Physical Therapy at Temple University and the study’s lead author, concluded bone damage could result from recurring force, reaching and demanding work tasks.
Barr teamed up with colleagues at Temple University’s College of Health Professions and School of Medicine to begin and continue her study.
Research members included Dr. Mary Barbe, associate Professor of Physical Therapy; Dr. Brian Clark, associate professor of Physical Therapy; Dr. Steven Popoff, professor and chair of anatomy and cell biology; and Dr. Fayez Safadi, assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology.
The study shows the highly repetitive action of muscles contracting at low forces can exceed the ability of bones to conform, making bones susceptible to further injuries.
Over time the bone usually conforms or remodels itself to accommodate tasks it is required to do. However, in tasks that are unorganized or continuously strenuous, work related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD) could occur.
The study used rats to perform work tasks involving force reaching and grasping similar to that of a work place. The rats worked two hours a day, three days a week. In three to six weeks, tissue was damaged.
As a result of the tissue damage the rats lessened the amount of work they were willing to do and decreased their amount of movement altogether.
The tissue damage “initiated an inflammatory response in the muscles, tendons and the bone. Damage went beyond soft tissue, causing a pathological bone response,” Barr said.
“The tissue is not adapting quickly enough to an organized fashion resulting in injury,” she added.
Injuries defined under WMSD, such as Tendonitis and Carpal tunnel, damage the muscle, bone, nerves and connective tissue of the upper and lower extremities, back, neck and other parts of the body.
Repetitive work tasks, like typing on a computer, increase the risk of WMSD.
Because multiple factors can encourage the development of WMSD, Barr said, “It’s important to make people aware of all the risk factors in their lives. Lifestyles habits, such as smoking, poor eating habits and no exercise are among some of the factors that can make WMSD worse.”
Based on the study’s publication in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, WMSD cause 65 percent of occupational illnesses in the United States, and cost private industry $20 to $55 billion each year.
Barr is among the health professionals who help people with repetitive work disorders. Her profession and medical interest serve as the motivation for the study, as well as her determination to have the disorder recognized in occupational health.
The approach to treating WMSD is multi-factorial. The next steps for Barr and her team include determining how to best prevent and manage diagnoses that fall under the WMSD umbrella.
This process will include “using anti inflammations in the rats and creating models that will reduce repetitive tasks,” she said.
“We do not know the long term effects of this damage the consequences of these early changes remains to be investigated,” Barr said.
Raynetta Smalls can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.