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Arthritis Rheum. 2004 Aug 15;51(4):642-51.

Prevalence and impact of musculoskeletal disorders of the upper limb in the general population.

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Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, United Kingdom.



To determine the prevalence, interrelation, and impact of musculoskeletal disorders of the upper limb in the general population.


A total of 9,696 randomly selected adults of working age were surveyed in a 2-stage cross-sectional study involving a screening questionnaire and a standardized physical examination in symptomatic subjects. Age- and sex-specific prevalence rates were estimated for several musculoskeletal disorders and for nonspecific pain in the upper limbs. The overlap and impact on daily activities and healthcare utilization were explored.


Among 6,038 first-stage responders, 3,152 reported upper limb symptoms and 1,960 were subsequently examined. Of subjects with pain, 44.8% had 1 or more specific soft-tissue disorders. Site-specific prevalence rates were as follows: shoulder tendinitis 4.5% among men and 6.1% among women; adhesive capsulitis 8.2% among men and 10.1% among women; lateral epicondylitis 1.3% among men and 1.1% among women; de Quervain's disease 0.5% among men and 1.3% among women; other tenosynovitis of the hand or wrist, 1.1% among men and 2.2% among women. Specific disorders tended to cluster (P < 0.001) in individuals, with particular overlap at the shoulder. Compared with subjects with nonspecific pain, those with specific disorders more often reported inability to perform everyday tasks (P < 0.05), consultation with a doctor (P < 0.05), and use of prescribed medication (P < 0.05).


Upper limb pain is common in the general population and is often associated with physical signs suggestive of specific upper-limb disorders. These disorders have a substantial impact on physical function and use of health care.

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