Thirteen women (mean age 48.2 years; range 25-60 years) all of whom had developed musculoskeletal symptoms during employment in an industrial job with repetitive tasks were referred by their trade unions for adjudication on the cause of symptoms. One had rheumatoid arthritis. A study of the other 12 women provided an opportunity to document the natural history of repetitive strain disorder. Early symptoms of weakness were diffuse but were always relieved by rest. Several months later localisation of symptoms at a tendon, nerve, or enthesis could be predicted from the analysis of the action required in the particular repetitive task. Six of the 12 women required an operation several years later, thus providing histological confirmation of the presence of a lesion. Early loss of grip strength measured by a sphygmomanometer cuff compared with an unaffected control subject and improved by rest may be the most valuable sign in excluding compensation neurosis. The estimated prevalence of repetitive strain disorder defined by these strict criteria was at least 2% in conveyor belt workers.
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