Physical Activity and Disability in Hospital Workers

Faculty Researcher: Cathy L. Simpson, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at Wayne State University

The importance of level of physical activity, an important health-related behavior, of individual workers on work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) has not been fully investigated. Previous studies that have investigated the influence of physical activity have either looked at its effect on the incidence of work-related injury or on the effect of exercise in limiting disability. These studies have not assessed the effect of a worker’s usual level of leisure and occupational physical activity before the time of injury occurrence, on disability. The purpose of this pilot study is to develop a method for obtaining information about the habitual physical activity of hospital workers at the time of injury and during injury recovery. The one-year study will be conducted on a sample of 50 injured hospital workers recruited from the Detroit Medical Center Northwest Region Occupational Health Service (OHS) located at Sinai-Grace Hospital, Detroit, Michigan. The Northwest Region employs about 2000 workers, predominantly women and 50% African American. The OHS evaluates approximately 240 work-related injuries per year. Dr. Simpson (PI) has been the medical director of this clinic for six years and is actively involved in evaluation of worker injury. Subjects reporting a low back or upper extremity work-related injury will be recruited during their visit in the OHS. We will measure their leisure time and occupational physical activity by self-administered questionnaire using instruments previously validated. We will measure functional disability at baseline and at the time returned to work without restrictions. During the period of recovery, subjects will fill out a daily activity log and report their pain intensity. Subjects will be trained in the use of pedometers to measure physical activity from walking. Energy expenditure estimated from the occupational physical activity questionnaire will be compared to that estimated from direct observation of work. The jobs of 10 subjects who have returned to work without restriction will be directly observed and their jobs videotaped. The primary statistical analyses will be to look at the effect of energy expenditure on return to work without restrictions and correlate energy expenditure as measured by self-report with that measured by direct observation.