Work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the automotive industry due to repetitive work - implications for rehabilitation
Background: Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) due to repetitive work are common in manufacturing industries, such as the automotive industry. However, it's still unclear which MSDs of the upper limb are to be expected in the automotive industry in a first aid unit as well as in occupational precaution examinations. It is also unclear which examination method could be performed effectively for practical reasons and under rehabilitation aspects. Additionally, it was to discuss whether the conception of unspecific description for MSDs has advantages or disadvantages in contrast to a precise medical diagnosis. Methods: We investigated the health status of two study populations working at two automotive plants in Germany. The first part included 67 consecutive patients who were seen for acute or chronic MSDs at the forearm over a 4-month period at the plants' medical services. Information about patients' working conditions and musculoskeletal symptoms was obtained during a standardized interview, which was followed by a standardized orthopedic-chiropractic physical examination. In the second part, 209 workers with daily exposure to video display terminals (VDT) completed a standardized questionnaire and were examined with function-oriented muscular tests on the occasion of their routine occupational precaution medical check-up. Results: The majority of the 67 patients seen by the company's medical services were blue-collar works from the assembly lines and trainees rather than white-collar workers from offices. Rates of musculoskeletal complaints were disproportionately higher among experienced people performing new tasks and younger trainees. The most common MSD in this group were disorders of flexor tendons of the forearm. By contrast, among the 209 employees working at VDT disorders of the neck and shoulders were more common than discomfort in the forearm. A positive tendency between restricted rotation of the cervical vertebrae and years worked at VDT was observed. In addition, only less than 8% of unspecific disorders of the upper limb (esp. wrist and forearm) were found. Conclusions: Functional tests for the upper limb seemed to be very helpful to give precise medical advice to the employees to prevent individual complaints. The results are also helpful for developing specific training programs before beginning new tasks as well as for rehabilitation reasons. There's no need to use uncertain terminology (such as RSI) as it may not be representative of the actual underlying disorders as diagnosed by more thorough physical examinations.