Prevalence of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Among Surgeons and Interventionalists: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

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Abstract

Importance

Physicians in procedural specialties are at high risk for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). This has been called “an impending epidemic” in the context of the looming workforce shortage; however, prevalence estimates vary by study.

Objectives

To estimate the prevalence of work-related MSDs among at-risk physicians and to evaluate the scope of preventive efforts.

Data Sources and Study Selection

Systematic search in MEDLINE (Ovid), Embase (Elsevier), Web of Science, PubMed (National Center for Biotechnology Information), and 2 clinical trial registries, without language restriction, for studies reporting on the prevalence and prevention of work-related MSDs among at-risk physicians published until December 2016. The Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE) guidelines for meta-analyses and systematic reviews of observational studies were used. At-risk physicians were defined as surgeons and medical interventionalists. Studies reporting on specific disorders or pain assessed with validated instruments were included.

Data Extraction and Synthesis

Study characteristics; disease prevalence for the neck, shoulder, back, and upper extremity; and measures of resulting disability were recorded. Study estimates were pooled using random-effects meta-analytic models.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Career prevalence of injuries and 12-month prevalence of pain.

Results

Among 21 articles (5828 physicians [mean age, 46.0 years; 78.5% male; 12.8 years in practice; 14.4 hours performing procedures per week]) included in this systematic review and meta-analysis, pooled crude prevalence estimates of the most common work-related MSDs were degenerative cervical spine disease in 17% (457 of 2406 physicians) (95% CI, 12%-25%), rotator cuff pathology in 18% (300 of 1513 physicians) (95% CI, 13%-25%), degenerative lumbar spine disease in 19% (544 of 2449 physicians) (95% CI, 5%-16%), and carpal tunnel syndrome in 9% (256 of 2449 physicians) (95% CI, 5%-16%). From 1997 to 2015, the prevalence of degenerative cervical spine disease and degenerative lumbar spine disease increased by 18.3% and 27%, respectively. Pooled prevalence estimates for pain ranged from 35% to 60% and differed by assessment instrument. Of those with a work-related MSD, 12% (277 of 2319 physicians) (95% CI, 7%-18%) required a leave of absence, practice restriction or modification, or early retirement. Heterogeneity was considerable for all crude analyses (mean I2 = 93.5%) but was lower for sensitivity analyses (mean I2 = 72.3%). Interventions focused on products and behaviors. Twelve at-risk specialties described a gross lack of awareness and an unmet need for ergonomics education.

Conclusions and Relevance

Prevalence estimates of work-related MSDs among at-risk physicians appear to be high. Further research is needed to develop and validate an evidence-based applied ergonomics program aimed at preventing these disorders in this population.

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