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1.  Differences in risk factors for neurophysiologically confirmed carpal tunnel syndrome and illness with similar symptoms but normal median nerve function: a case–control study 
Background
To explore whether risk factors for neurophysiologically confirmed carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) differ from those for sensory symptoms with normal median nerve conduction, and to test the validity and practical utility of a proposed definition for impaired median nerve conduction, we carried out a case–control study of patients referred for investigation of suspected CTS.
Methods
We compared 475 patients with neurophysiological abnormality (NP+ve) according to the definition, 409 patients investigated for CTS but classed as negative on neurophysiological testing (NP-ve), and 799 controls. Exposures to risk factors were ascertained by self-administered questionnaire. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were estimated by logistic regression.
Results
NP+ve disease was associated with obesity, use of vibratory tools, repetitive movement of the wrist or fingers, poor mental health and workplace psychosocial stressors. NP-ve illness was also related to poor mental health and occupational psychosocial stressors, but differed from NP+ve disease in showing associations also with prolonged use of computer keyboards and tendency to somatise, and no relation to obesity. In direct comparison of NP+ve and NP-ve patients (the latter being taken as the reference category), the most notable differences were for obesity (OR 2.7, 95 % CI 1.9-3.9), somatising tendency (OR 0.6, 95% CI 0.4-0.9), diabetes (OR 1.6, 95% CI 0.9-3.1) and work with vibratory tools (OR 1.4, 95% CI 0.9-2.2).
Conclusions
When viewed in the context of earlier research, our findings suggest that obesity, diabetes, use of hand-held vibratory tools, and repeated forceful movements of the wrist and hand are causes of impaired median nerve function. In addition, sensory symptoms in the hand, whether from identifiable pathology or non-specific in origin, may be rendered more prominent and distressing by hand activity, low mood, tendency to somatise, and psychosocial stressors at work. These differences in associations with risk factors support the validity of our definition of impaired median nerve conduction.
doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-240
PMCID: PMC3765327  PMID: 23947720
Carpal tunnel syndrome; Nerve conduction; Case–control; Obesity; Vibration; Occupation; Psychosocial; Somatising tendency; Upper limb disorders
2.  Impact of carpal tunnel surgery according to pre-operative abnormality of sensory conduction in median nerve: a longitudinal study 
Background
We have previously proposed that sensory nerve conduction (SNC) in the median nerve should be classed as abnormal when the difference between conduction velocities in the little and index fingers is > 8 m/s. In a prospective longitudinal study, we investigated whether this case definition distinguished patients who were more likely to benefit from surgical treatment.
Methods
We followed up 394 patients (response rate 56%), who were investigated by a neurophysiology service for suspected carpal tunnel syndrome. Information about symptoms, treatment and other possible determinants of outcome was obtained through questionnaires at baseline and after follow-up for a mean of 19.2 months. Analysis focused on 656 hands with numbness, tingling or pain at baseline. Associations of surgical treatment with resolution of symptoms were assessed by Poisson regression, and summarised by prevalence rate ratios (PRRs) and associated 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs).
Results
During follow-up, 154 hands (23%) were treated surgically, and sensory symptoms resolved in 241 hands (37%). In hands with abnormal median SNC, surgery was associated with resolution of numbness, tingling and pain (PRR 1.5, 95% CI 1.0-2.2), and of numbness and tingling specifically (PRR 1.8, 95% CI 1.3-2.6). In contrast, no association was apparent for either outcome when median SNC was classed as normal.
Conclusions
Our definition of abnormal median SNC distinguished a subset of patients who appeared to benefit from surgical treatment. This predictive capacity gives further support to its validity as a diagnostic criterion in epidemiological research.
doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-241
PMCID: PMC3765505  PMID: 23947746
Carpal tunnel syndrome; Neurophysiology; Case definition; Validity; Surgery; Outcome
3.  Symptoms, signs and nerve conduction velocities in patients with suspected carpal tunnel syndrome 
Background
To inform the clinical management of patients with suspected carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and case definition for CTS in epidemiological research, we explored the relation of symptoms and signs to sensory nerve conduction (SNC) measurements.
Methods
Patients aged 20–64 years who were referred to a neurophysiology service for investigation of suspected CTS, completed a symptom questionnaire (including hand diagrams) and physical examination (including Tinel’s and Phalen’s tests). Differences in SNC velocity between the little and index finger were compared according to the anatomical distribution of symptoms in the hand and findings on physical examination.
Results
Analysis was based on 1806 hands in 908 patients (response rate 73%). In hands with numbness or tingling but negative on both Tinel’s and Phalen’s tests, the mean difference in SNC velocities was no higher than in hands with no numbness or tingling. The largest differences in SNC velocities occurred in hands with extensive numbness or tingling in the median nerve sensory distribution and both Tinel’s and Phalen’s tests positive (mean 13.8, 95% confidence interval (CI) 12.6-15.0 m/s). Hand pain and thumb weakness were unrelated to SNC velocity.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that in the absence of other objective evidence of median nerve dysfunction, there is little value in referring patients of working age with suspected CTS for nerve conduction studies if they are negative on both Tinel’s and Phalen’s tests. Alternative case definitions for CTS in epidemiological research are proposed according to the extent of diagnostic information available and the relative importance of sensitivity and specificity.
doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-242
PMCID: PMC3765787  PMID: 23947775
Epidemiology; Evidence-based medicine; Hand; Nerve compression syndromes; Wrist
4.  Optimal case definitions of upper extremity disorder for use in the clinical treatment and referral of patients 
Arthritis care & research  2012;64(4):573-580.
Objective
Experts disagree about the optimal classification of upper limb disorders (ULDs). To explore whether differential response to treatments offers a basis for choosing between case definitions, we analysed previously published research.
Methods
We screened 183 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of treatments for ULDs, identified from the bibliographies of 10 Cochrane reviews, four other systematic reviews, and a search in Medline, Embase, and Google Scholar to June 2010. From these, we selected RCTs which allowed estimates of benefit (expressed as relative risks (RRs)) for >1 case definition to be compared when other variables (treatment, comparison group, follow-up time, outcome measure) were effectively held constant. Comparisons of RRs for paired case definitions were summarised by their ratios, with the RR for the simpler and broader definition as the denominator.
Result
Two RCT reports allowed within-trial comparison of RRs and thirteen others allowed between-trial comparisons. Together these provided 17 ratios of RRs (five for shoulder treatments, 12 for elbow treatments, none for wrist/hand treatments). The median ratio of RRs was 1.0 (range 0.3 to 1.7; interquartile range 0.6 to 1.3).
Conclusion
Although the evidence base is limited, our findings suggest that for musculoskeletal disorders of the shoulder and elbow, clinicians in primary care will often do best to apply simpler and broader case definitions. Researchers should routinely publish secondary analyses for subgroups of patients by different diagnostic features at trial entry, to expand the evidence base on optimal case definitions for patient management.
doi:10.1002/acr.21588
PMCID: PMC3428871  PMID: 22213545
5.  Optimising case definitions of upper limb disorder for aetiological research and prevention – a review 
Background
Experts disagree about the optimal classification of upper limb disorders (ULDs). To explore whether differences in associations with occupational risk factors offer a basis for choosing between case definitions in aetiological research and surveillance, we analysed previously published research.
Methods
Eligible reports (those with estimates of relative risk (RR) for >1 case definition relative to identical exposures were identified from systematic reviews of ULD and occupation and by hand-searching five peer-review journals published between January 1990 and June 2010. We abstracted details by anatomical site of the case and exposure definitions employed and paired estimates of RR, for alternative case definitions with identical occupational exposures. Pairs of case definitions were typically nested, a stricter definition being a subset of a simpler version. Differences in RR between paired definitions were expressed as the ratio of RRs, using that for the simpler definition as the denominator.
Results
We found 21 reports, yielding 320 pairs of RRs (82, 75 and 163 respectively at the shoulder, elbow, and distal arm). Ratios of RRs were frequently ≤1 (46%), the median ratio overall and by anatomical site being close to unity. In only 2% of comparisons did ratios reach ≥4.
Conclusion
Complex ULD case definitions (e.g. involving physical signs, more specific symptom patterns, and investigations) yield similar associations with occupational risk factors to those using simpler definitions. Thus, in population-based aetiological research and surveillance, simple case definitions should normally suffice. Data on risk factors can justifiably be pooled in meta-analyses, despite differences in case definition.
doi:10.1136/oemed-2011-100086
PMCID: PMC3427012  PMID: 22006938
6.  OCCUPATION AND EPICONDYLITIS: A POPULATION-BASED STUDY 
Rheumatology (Oxford, England)  2011;51(2):305-310.
Objectives
To explore the relationship between occupational exposures and lateral and medial epicondylitis and the effect of epicondylitis on sickness absence in a population sample of working aged adults.
Methods
This was a cross-sectional study of 9696 randomly selected adults aged 25-64 years involving a screening questionnaire and standardised physical examination. Age- and sex-specific prevalence rates of epicondylitis were estimated and associations with occupational risk factors explored.
Results
Among 6038 respondents, 636 (11%) reported elbow pain in the last week. 0.7% of those surveyed were diagnosed with lateral epicondylitis and 0.6% with medial epicondylitis. Lateral epicondylitis was associated with manual work (OR 4.0, 95% CI 1.9-8.4). In multivariate analyses, repetitive bending/straightening elbow > 1 hour day was independently associated with lateral (OR 2.5, 95% CI 1.2-5.5) and medial epicondylitis (OR 5.1, 95% CI 1.8-14.3). 5% of adults with epicondylitis took sickness absence because of their elbow symptoms in the past 12 months (median 29 days).
Conclusions
Repetitive exposure to bending/straightening the elbow was a significant risk factor for medial and lateral epicondylitis. Epicondylitis is associated with prolonged sickness absence in 5% of affected working-aged adults.
doi:10.1093/rheumatology/ker228
PMCID: PMC3427015  PMID: 22019808
lateral epicondylitis; medial epicondylitis; epidemiology; occupation; sickness absence
7.  Effectiveness of community- and workplace-based interventions to manage musculoskeletal-related sickness absence and job loss – a systematic review 
Rheumatology (Oxford, England)  2011;51(2):230-242.
This systematic review assesses the effectiveness of interventions in community and workplace settings to reduce sickness absence and job loss in workers with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Relevant studies (randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and cohort studies published since 1990) were identified by screening citations in 35 earlier systematic reviews and from searches of Medline and Embase to April 2010. Among 42 studies (54 reports) including 34 RCTs, 27 assessed return to work, 21 duration of sickness absence, and five job loss. Interventions included exercise therapy, behavioural change techniques, workplace adaptations and provision of additional services. Studies were typically small (median sample size 107 (inter-quartile range (IQR) 77 to 148) and limited in quality. Most interventions were reported as beneficial: the median relative risk (RR) for return to work was 1.21 (IQR 1.00 – 1.60) and that for avoiding MSD-related job loss, 1.25 (IQR 1.06-1.71); the median reduction in sickness absence was 1.11 (IQR 0.32 to 3.20) days/month. However, effects were smaller in the larger and better quality studies, suggesting publication bias. No intervention was clearly superior to others, although effort-intensive interventions were less effective than simple ones. No cost-benefit analyses established statistically significant net economic benefits. Given that benefits are small and of doubtful cost-effectiveness, employers’ practice should be guided by their value judgements about the uncertainties. Expensive interventions should be implemented only with rigorous cost-benefit evaluation planned from the outset. Future research should focus on the cost-effectiveness of simple low cost interventions, and further explore impacts on job retention.
doi:10.1093/rheumatology/ker086
PMCID: PMC3276837  PMID: 21415023
Occupational Disease; Epidemiology; Rehabilitation; Systematic review; Psychological techniques; Physiotherapy
8.  THE BURDEN OF SICKNESS ABSENCE FROM MUSCULOSKELETAL CAUSES IN GREAT BRITAIN 
Background
National initiatives to prevent and/or manage sickness absence require a database from which trends can be monitored.
Aims
To evaluate the information provided by surveillance schemes and publicly available datasets on sickness absence nationally from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Methods
A grey literature search was undertaken using the search engine Google, supplemented by leads from consultees from academia, industry, employers, lay interest groups and government. We abstracted data on the outcomes and populations covered, and made quantitative estimates of MSD-related sickness absence, overall and, where distinguishable, by sub-diagnosis. The coverage and limitations of each source were evaluated.
Results
Sources included the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and its Self-reported Work-related Illness survey module; the THOR-GP surveillance scheme; surveys by national and local government; surveys by employers’ organisations; and a database of benefit statistics. Each highlighted MSDs as a leading cause of sickness absence. Data limitations varied by source, but typically included lack of diagnostic detail and restriction of focus to selected subgroups (e.g. work-ascribed or benefit-awarded cases, specific employment sectors). Additionally, some surveys had very low response rates, were completed only by proxy respondents, or ranked only the perceived importance of MSD-related sickness absence, rather than measuring it.
Conclusions
National statistics on MSD-related sickness absence are piecemeal and incomplete. This limits capacity to plan and monitor national policies in an important area of public health. Simple low-cost additions to the LFS would improve the situation.
doi:10.1093/occmed/kqr061
PMCID: PMC3355371  PMID: 21652574
10.  Dupuytren's contracture and occupational exposure to hand-transmitted vibration 
Aims
The relation between Dupuytren's contracture and occupational exposure to hand-transmitted vibration (HTV) has frequently been debated. We explored associations in a representative national sample of workers with well-characterised exposure to HTV.
Methods
We mailed a questionnaire to 21 201 subjects aged 16–64 years, selected at random from the age-sex registers of 34 general practices in Great Britain and to 993 subjects chosen randomly from military pay records, asking about occupational exposure to 39 sources of HTV and about fixed flexion contracture of the little or ring finger. Analysis was restricted to men at work in the previous week. Estimates were made of average daily vibration dose (A(8) root mean squared velocity (rms)) over that week. Associations with Dupuytren's contracture were estimated by Poisson regression, for lifetime exposure to HTV and for exposures in the past week >A(8) of 2.8 ms−2 rms. Estimates of relative risk (prevalence ratio (PR)) were adjusted for age, smoking status, social class and certain manual activities at work.
Results
In all 4969 eligible male respondents supplied full information on the study variables. These included 72 men with Dupuytren's contracture, 2287 with occupational exposure to HTV and 409 with A(8)>2.8 ms−2 in the past week. PRs for occupational exposure to HTV were elevated 1.5-fold. For men with an A(8)>2.8 ms−2 in the past week, the adjusted PR was 2.85 (95% CI 1.37 to 5.97).
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that risk of Dupuytren's contracture is more than doubled in men with high levels of weekly exposure to HTV.
doi:10.1136/oemed-2013-101981
PMCID: PMC3963601  PMID: 24449599

Results 1-10 (10)