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Occupational risk factors for shoulder pain: a systematic review
  1. Daniëlle A W M van der Windta,
  2. Elaine Thomasb,
  3. Daniel P Popeb,
  4. Andrea F de Wintera,
  5. Gary J Macfarlanec,
  6. Lex M Boutera,
  7. Alan J Silmanb
  1. aInstitute for Research in Extramural Medicine, Vrije Universiteit, Van der Boechorststraat 7, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands, bARC Epidemiology Unit, School of Epidemiology and Health Sciences, University of Manchester, UK, cUnit of Chronic Disease Epidemiology
  1. Dr Daniëlle van der Windtdawm.van_der_windt.emgo{at}


OBJECTIVES To systematically evaluate the available evidence on occupational risk factors of shoulder pain.

METHODS Relevant reports were identified by a systematic search of Medline, Embase, Psychlit, Cinahl, and Current Contents. The quality of the methods of all selected publications was assessed by two independent reviewers using a standardised checklist. Details were extracted on the study population, exposures (physical load and psychosocial work environment), and results for the association between exposure variables and shoulder pain.

RESULTS 29 Studies were included in the review; three case-control studies and 26 cross sectional designs. The median method score was 60% of the maximum attainable score. Potential risk factors related to physical load and included heavy work load, awkward postures, repetitive movements, vibration, and duration of employment. Consistent findings were found for repetitive movements, vibration, and duration of employment (odds ratio (OR) 1.4–46 in studies with method scores ⩾ 60%). Nearly all studies that assessed psychosocial risk factors reported at least one positive association with shoulder pain, but the results were not consistent across studies for either high psychological demands, poor control at work, poor social support, or job dissatisfaction. Studies with a method score ⩾60% reported ORs between 1.3 and 4.0. Substantial heterogeneity across studies for methods used for exposure assessment and data analysis impeded statistical pooling of results.

CONCLUSIONS It seems likely that shoulder pain is the result of many factors, including physical load and the psychosocial work environment. The available evidence was not consistent across studies, however, and the associations were generally not strong. Future longitudinal research should evaluate the relative importance of each individual risk factor and the role of potential confounding variables—such as exposure during leisure time—to set priorities for the prevention of shoulder pain in occupational settings.

  • systematic review
  • shoulder pain
  • risk factors

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