Upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders and work exposures among railroad maintenance-of-way workers

Paul Landsbergis, Eckardt Johanning, Marco Stillo, Rahul Jain, Michelle Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Our objective was to examine occupational risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders of the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands among railroad maintenance-of-way (MOW) workers. Little systematic research on musculoskeletal disorders has been conducted in this occupational group. Methods: In total, 3995 active members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) completed a standardized survey focusing on disorders caused by hand-transmitted vibration. We computed adjusted prevalence ratios (aPRs) using Poisson regression for shoulder, elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, and vibration white finger musculoskeletal symptoms by work exposures, adjusted for age, region, race/ethnicity, smoking, potential second job, and spare time vehicle vibration exposure, and other work exposures. Results: Among active male BMWED members, we found associations between >5.2 years (vs. 0.0–0.7 years) duration of full-time equivalent power tool use and shoulder pain (aPR = 2.01; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.43–2.85), elbow pain (aPR = 2.88; 95% CI, 1.86–4.46), vibration white finger symptoms (aPR = 2.49; 95% CI, 1.06–5.85), hand/wrist pain (aPR = 2.40; 95% CI, 1.74–3.32), finger numbness or tingling (aPR = 1.86; 95% CI, 1.38–2.50) and self-reported carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosis (aPR = 2.16; 95% CI, 1.24–3.77). Associations were not consistent across outcomes for the duration of non-powered hand tool use and “repeated lifting, pushing, pulling, or bending.” Positive gradients were observed for most outcomes. Conclusions: Hand-arm vibration and some other biomechanical exposures were associated with shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, and finger symptoms. Prevention programs should address occupational risk factors for upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders among MOW workers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)744-757
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • elbow
  • ergonomics
  • musculoskeletal
  • railroad
  • shoulder
  • vibration
  • vibration white finger


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