Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 2009;35(3):222-232    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.1327

Self-reported versus expert-assessed work-relatedness of pain in the neck, shoulder, and arm

by Mehlum IS, Veiersted KB, Wærsted M, Wergeland E, Kjuus H

Objectives The aim of this study was to compare self-reported work-relatedness of neck–shoulder and arm pain with experts’ assessments based on specific criteria.

Methods A sample of 217 employed participants in the Oslo Health Study 2000–2001, aged 30, 40, and 45 years, who reported neck–shoulder or arm pain in the past month, underwent a health examination. A criteria document for evaluating the work-relatedness of upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders was used to ­establish clinical diagnoses and assess the work-relatedness of pain with respect to the subject’s present job. We measured agreement between the participants and experts on whether pain was related to work as observed agreement, positive and negative specific agreement, and kappa.

Results A major proportion of the cases were assessed as work-related, somewhat more frequently by self-report than when assessed by experts (80% versus 65% for neck–shoulder pain, and 78% versus 72% for arm pain, respectively). However, there was considerable disagreement as to which cases were work-related. The experts disagreed more frequently in cases that were reported as non-work-related (particularly for neck–shoulder pain and cases reported by men). Positive specific agreement was fairly high (76–85% in the total population), while negative specific agreement was lower (37–51%). Kappa values were also low (0.16–0.34).

Conclusions Compared with expert assessment, self-reporting did not seem to particularly exaggerate work-relatedness. Nevertheless, there was considerable disagreement, especially on cases assessed as non-work-­related. However, agreement will depend on the case definitions and the criteria for work-relatedness used both by the participants and the experts.

This article refers to the following texts of the Journal: 2005;31(3):237-243  2007;33(3):165-191  2008;34(4):250-259  2001;27 suppl 1:1-102