Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 272–295 | Cite as

Epidemiology of work related neck and upper limb problems: Psychosocial and personal risk factors (Part I) and effective interventions from a bio behavioural perspective (Part II)

  • P. M. BongersEmail author
  • S. Ijmker
  • S. van den Heuvel
  • B. M. Blatter
Original Paper


Work related neck and upper limb symptoms have a multi-factorial origin. Possible risk factors are of a physical, psychosocial or personal origin. These factors can reinforce each other and their influence can also be mediated by cultural or societal factors. Initially, most research on neck and upper limb symptoms focused on work-related physical exposure. Nowadays, psychosocial work characteristics are recognized as important risk factors. Various models have been developed to offer frameworks for possible pathways, but their empirical support is still not conclusive.

In part I of this paper an overview is presented of the results of recent epidemiological studies on work related psychosocial and personal risk factors for neck and upper limb symptoms. In addition, the interplay between these factors and the possible intermediate role of an individuals work style in this process is explored. In contrast to previous reviews, it is now possible to base the conclusions on the effect of work related psychosocial factors on neck and upper limb symptoms on quite a few longitudinal studies. These studies show that high work demands or little control at work are often related to these symptoms. However, this relationship is neither very strong nor very specific. Perceived stress is studied in not as many studies but more consistently related to neck and upper limb symptoms. This also applies to general distress or other pain (co-morbidity). Job dissatisfaction does not contribute to neck and upper limb symptoms. Too little research on personal characteristics is available to draw any conclusions. It is plausible that behavioural aspects, such as work style, are of importance in the etiology of work related upper limb symptoms. However, studies concerning these factors are promising but too scarce to draw conclusions. Future studies should address these behavioural aspects.

In part II, the recent studies on the effectiveness of preventive measures for work related neck and upper limb problems are discussed. Few randomised or non randomised controlled trials have been carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of individual or organisational interventions to improve work related psychosocial factors. Very few have reported on the preventive effect for work related neck and upper limb symptoms. Therefore, there is a great need for additional high quality trials before any conclusions on effectiveness of bio-behavioural interventions for reduction of neck and upper limb problems and return to work after these symptoms can be made. From the low back pain intervention research can be learned that interventions should best be targeted to both the worker and the organisation and that interventions will only be successful when all stakeholders are involved.


Psychosocial factors Neck and upper limb symptoms Interventions Epidemiology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. M. Bongers
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • S. Ijmker
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • S. van den Heuvel
    • 1
  • B. M. Blatter
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.TNO Quality of LifeWork and EmploymentHoofddorpThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Body@work, Research Center on Physical ActivityWork and Health TNO VU University Medical CenterAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine InstituteVU University Medical CenterAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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