Are Women at Higher Risk of Work-Related Injuries than Men?

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Female workers have fought a long and hard battle to prove their ability to perform their jobs as effectively and efficiently as their male co-workers. Nevertheless, work-related musculoskeletal disease (WMSD) accounts for over 33% of all reported occupational illnesses, with female gender being one of the risk factors. In particular, disorders of the neck and shoulder region appear to affect female workers at a higher prevalence than males performing the same tasks.

Factors Contributing to WMSD

In seeking solutions for reducing work-related musculoskeletal disorders, it is important to pinpoint the underlying causes. Researchers have identified both physical and psychosocial risk factors.

Some risk factors for WMSD include:

  • heavy physical workloads
  • poor workplace ergonomics
  • repetitive work tasks
  • poor job satisfaction
  • high stress levels
  • female gender

It is important to note that females in general have genetically lower strength levels, tend to be shorter than males, and have significant anatomical differences that may put them at higher risk for WMSD. Moreover, many jobs requiring manual labor are dominated by men, and workstations and tasks are typically designed to accommodate the average male worker.

In general, men have greater muscle strength and higher aerobic capacity, and they are able to exert more torque and power when performing the same work tasks as women. In other words, to produce the same amount of work, women have to work significantly harder to achieve the same job performance outcomes as men.

WMSD of the Neck and Shoulder

When it comes to neck and shoulder disorders, women may be at a particular disadvantage when performing physical work tasks. Specifically, women have smaller necks than men of the same height, and have up to 45% less muscle in the biceps and other upper body regions. In addition, the anatomy and shape of the glenoid fossa of the shoulder is different in men and women, which affects shoulder mechanics.

Other factors to take into account are female breasts, the impact of brassier straps on upper body function, differences in male and female center of gravity, and factors such as shoulder width and relative differences in lever length that can profoundly impact biomechanics.

Role of the Neuromuscular System

In addition to anatomical and strength differences, there is some evidence to suggest that differences may exist between male and female neuromuscular control that place females at higher risk for workplace injury.

The neuromuscular system determines how and when muscles are activated to perform a particular task. It takes into account information provided by the proprioceptive, vestibular and visual systems, integrating sensory information to regulate movement. Some studies suggest that women may use different strategies than men for neuromuscular control.

Identifying differences between male and female neuromuscular control can help increase our understanding of sex differences in the incidence of WMSD, and may be used to develop prevention strategies to reduce injury risk in female workers.

Solutions for Reducing WMSD

Musculoskeletal disorders can lead to reduced work performance, job absenteeism and increased workers’ compensation claims. In other words, WMSD is costly for employers, and it can lead to loss of jobs and income for affected workers. Employers cannot afford to overlook sex differences between male and female employees, and they should take proactive steps to improve physical working conditions for both men and women.

Solutions may include:

  • Improved and individualized workstation ergonomics
  • Differentiation in workload and task assignment for male and female workers
  • Task-specific training to optimize motor mechanics and reduce injury

WMSD Treatment in NYC

If you are suffering from work-related neck and shoulder pain or other forms of WMSD, the pain specialists at NYDNR can help. We approach every patient as an individual, taking into consideration your daily activities, physical fitness level and workplace factors that may be contributing to your pain or dysfunction.

Treatment may include:

  • Pain management strategies
  • Targeted treatment for injured tissues
  • Postural evaluation and corrective therapies
  • Strength and conditioning exercises
  • Neuromuscular training
  • Biomechanical evaluation and correction
  • Task-specific training

Do not wait until WMSD costs you your job. Contact us today, and get the help you need to work smarter, not harder.

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