Aim: To determine whether kneeling or squatting for prolonged periods is sufficiently causally associated with an increased risk of injury or degenerative disease of the knee joint as to meet the classic criteria to be considered an occupational disease of coal miners for whom these are or have been routine working postures.
Method: Systematic literature searches were made for studies relating to kneeling and squatting as part of the working environment of coal mines and the role of these postures in causation of knee disorders in coal miners, analogous occupations, populations, and communities. The working environment and potentially damaging forces on the knee when kneeling or squatting were described. Papers on the incidence or prevalence of knee disorders in occupational and other groups were scored against five criteria independently by each author, and from this a single consensus score representing the overall strength of evidence given by the research was awarded. The evidence was then weighed against the criteria for an occupational disease.
Results: Nineteen published papers were scored, the majority of which focussed on osteoarthritis as the outcome of interest. Few of the studies found focussed specifically on miners, and those that did tended to involve small numbers of subjects and were carried out before 1960, when the mining population was at its largest but epidemiological evidence of the risk factors for knee disorders was not well established. The non-mining studies in the review represent groups of workers with a similar or lesser kneeling content in their work.
Conclusion: The papers reviewed provide sufficient evidence to conclude that work involving kneeling and/or squatting is causally associated with an increased risk of osteoarthritis of the knee. In some of the more recent epidemiologically sound studies, frequent or prolonged kneeling or squatting doubles the general risk of osteoarthritis of the knees found in the general population. This may be of particular importance in welfare and medico-legal situations. There was also evidence to suggest that lifting, in combination with kneeling/squatting, an activity also performed by miners in the course of their work, is associated with an excess risk of osteoarthritis above that attributed to kneeling/squatting alone.
- OA, osteoarthritis
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Declaration of interests: This review was funded by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM) under a contract with the University of Birmingham that ensured the independence of the investigators, the integrity of the work and the right to publish the results without prior approval.