Nerve injuries from repetitive work motions are common

Nerve damage from occupational tasks.


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An occupational nerve injury is a problem with peripheral nerves caused by work activities, often seen in manual labor jobs. Hearn and her team from University of Michigan reviewed injuries from repetitive motion. While some injuries are from unpredictable accidents, these usually involve repetitive trauma over time. Hearn noted that nerve injuries from specific work tasks help researchers understand common mechanisms across individuals.

Researchers look beyond apparent crush injuries or cuts and find several biomechanical stressors causing many occupational nerve injuries, regardless of the body part. These include compression, stretch, vibration, and repetitive or high-force movements of muscles and joints.

Many of these injuries build up over time without a precise injury moment. For example, using a jackhammer for years might lead to waking up with numb hands.

Hearn found that specific anatomical differences can make some people more prone to nerve injuries. Anatomic variation explains why some workers develop nerve problems, and others don’t. Injury risk depends on how an individual’s nerves respond to repetitive tasks.

Each work-related injury is unique. Hearn and her team aimed to find the best approach to treat common work-related injuries, creating a reference guide to help as many patients as possible.

“We know that jobs and tasks are very diverse, so listing all possible job-related nerve injuries is impossible,” said Hearn.

They aim to help clinicians identify how biomechanical factors and anatomy interact to cause nerve damage. This understanding can help diagnose and treat nerve injuries, even when patients’ jobs and tasks differ from those in the review.

Journal reference:

  1. Sandra L. Hearn, Shawn P. Jorgensen et al., Occupational nerve injuries. Muscle & Nerve. DOI: 10.1002/mus.28099.