workHEALTHCopyright: © Mario Irmischer
Prevention and Treatment of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Through a Holistic Understanding of Biomechanical and Psychosocial Factors in Occupational and Clinical Practice.
- 01.08.2020 to 31.07.2023
- Research Area:
- Workplace and Product Design | Cognitive and Physiological Ergonomics
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) impose considerable limitations on those affected. They also cause enormous economic damage through health care expenditures and lost productivity. MSDs are the largest cause of lost workdays and are cited as the second most common reason for early retirement across all genders.
The workHEALTH project is an interdisciplinary study of issues related to the etiology and development of work-related MSDs. The goal is to facilitate better prevention and treatment and effectively reduce the prevalence of work-related MSDs.
As extensive public health insurance data show, work-related factors have a strong influence on the prevalence of MSDs. Although individual factors such as leisure activities, underlying diseases and body weight also influence the prevalence of MSDs, it is generally assumed that MSDs are significantly associated with unfavorable working conditions and high workloads. Specifically, work-related MSDs include degenerative changes or diseases caused primarily by the interaction of one or more risk factors with a person’s individual characteristics. Examples of common work-related MSDs are degenerative diseases of the cervical and lumbar spine (e.g. herniated disc) and of the joints (e.g. osteoarthritis of the wrists, elbows, knees and hips) as well as dysfunctional reactions of the musculature (e.g. diseases of tendons, ligaments, meniscus and bursa). In connection with complaints and pain in the musculoskeletal system, patients often report non-specific symptoms or pain syndromes, such as lower back pain (lumbar spine syndrome), neck pain (neck syndrome) and pain in the upper extremities after carrying out frequently repeated movements (repetitive strain injury).
Currently, there is a lack of comprehensive knowledge on the interaction of risk factors as well as resulting implications for workplace and clinical practice, both in the field of prevention and treatment. Focusing on research into the risk factors of work-related MSDs seems particularly promising, as it is easy to implement prevention measures within companies through legal regulations. Accordingly, the BAuA – Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin (Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) – defines research into the etiology of work-related MSDs as one of the main objectives of its “Arbeits- und Forschungsprogramm 2018 - 2021” (Work and Research Program 2018 - 2021) in order to further develop preventive approaches to work design.
The workHEALTH project is an interdisciplinary investigation into the etiology and development of work-related MSDs with the goal of improving prevention and treatment and effectively reducing the prevalence of work-related MSDs. This requires collaboration within an interdisciplinary research network from the areas of medicine, orthopedics, physiotherapy, biomechanics, health psychology, ergonomics, and industrial engineering. This interdisciplinary perspective enables the project to take a holistic view, from prevention at the workplace, through illness and treatment, to reintegration into work life. The workHEALTH project aims to use its findings to create guidelines for clinical and workplace practice. This includes the further development of methods for stress assessment which are used for preventive work design, the development of psychosocial intervention measures to promote healthy behavior at the workplace, preventive and psychosocial behavioral support and guidelines for treatment and reintegration into the workplace, as well as the validation of existing biomechanical models and indications for the operational and clinical use of exoskeletons.
In order to gain new insights, the project places particular value on the combined use of collective and individual data collection. The workHEALTH project uses a multi-method approach that simultaneously uses a variety of modern data collection methods and instruments. This includes things such as in vitro studies on human intervertebral disc samples and joint cartilage, in vivo measurements of forces and momentum, interviews and self-reporting on psychosocial factors and other factors that are difficult to measure, experience sampling to record subjective parameters (e.g. personal well-being and workload in real time, calculation of forces and momentum using motion capture and biomechanical modelling, ambulatory assessment using mobile activity sensors to objectively record sedentary behavior and physical activity) and electromyography.
The workHEALTH project is funded by the BMBF – Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) – within the framework of the guidelines for the funding of interdisciplinary research networks on musculoskeletal diseases. As such, it makes an important contribution to the design of the Federal Government's framework program for health research. The project is supervised by the DLR – Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (German Aerospace Center).