Those who are quick to dismiss their shoulder pain as simply a result of repetitive stress or too much heavy lifting should perhaps think again, a recent study suggests. Research conducted at the University of Utah School of Medicine found that people at higher risk for heart disease could also be more likely to have shoulder pain, rotator cuff injuries and related problems.
“If someone has rotator cuff problems, it could be a sign that there is something else going on. They may need to manage risk factors for heart disease,” said the study’s lead author, Kurt Hegmann, M.D., M.P.H., professor of family and preventive medicine and director of the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health.
The study of 1,226 workers looked at the activities of airbag manufacturers, meat processors, cabinet makers and other skilled laborers. Ergonomists carefully monitored their every twist, push and pull, assigning a “strain index” to each worker. Those results were paired with the workers’ individual heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
The researchers found that more strain on the job did not translate to an increase in shoulder difficulties. Nor did more time spent doing other physical activities outside of work. Instead, those participants who had the most significant heart disease risk factors were 4.6 times more likely than those with no risk factors to have had shoulder joint pain. They were also nearly six times more likely to have a second shoulder condition called rotator cuff tendinopathy.
“What we think we are seeing is that high force can accelerate rotator cuff issues but is not the primary driver,” Hegmann said. “Cardiovascular disease risk factors could be more important than job factors for incurring these types of problems.”
Previous research has found that people at increased risk for heart disease also have a higher incidence of musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, Achilles tendinitis and tennis elbow. The current study adds shoulder problems to this list; but more research will be necessary to prove cause and effect, he said. The study was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.