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Towards harmonisation of case definitions for eight work-related musculoskeletal disorders - an international multi-disciplinary Delphi study



International consensus is needed on case definitions of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and diseases (MSDs) for use in epidemiological research. We aim to: 1) study what information is needed for the case definition of work-related low back pain (LBP), lumbosacral radicular syndrome (LRS), subacromial pain syndrome (SAPS), carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), lateral and medial elbow tendinopathy, and knee and hip osteoarthritis, and to 2) seek consensus among occupational health professionals/researchers regarding the case definitions of these work-related MSDs.


A two-round Delphi study was conducted with occupational health professionals/researchers from 24 countries. Definition of work-related MSDs were composed of a case definition with work exposures. Round 1 included 32 case definitions and round 2, 60 case definitions. After two rounds, consensus required 75% of the panellists to rate a case definition including work exposures ≥7 points on a 9-point rating scale (completely disagree/completely agree).


Fifty-eight panellists completed both rounds (response rate 90%). Forty-five (70%) panellists thought that for LBP a case definition can be based on symptoms only. Consensus was only reached for work-related medial elbow tendinopathy, while the lowest agreement was found for knee osteoarthritis. Where consensus was not reached, this was - except for LBP - related to physical examination and imaging rather than disagreement on key symptoms.


Consensus on case definitions was reached only for work-related medial elbow tendinopathy. Epidemiological research would benefit from harmonized case definitions for all MSDs including imaging and physical examination for LRS, SAPS, CTS, lateral elbow tendinopathy and hip and knee osteoarthritis.

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