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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The interaction of force and repetition on musculoskeletal and neural tissue responses and sensorimotor behavior in a rat model of work-related musculoskeletal disorders

Mary F Barbe12*, Sean Gallagher3, Vicky S Massicotte1, Michael Tytell4, Steven N Popoff1 and Ann E Barr-Gillespie5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Temple University School of Medicine, 3500 North Broad St, Philadelphia 19140, PA, USA

2 Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center, Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19140, USA

3 Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama 36849-5346, USA

4 Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1010, USA

5 College of Health Professions, Pacific University, Hillsboro, OR 97123, USA

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:303  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-303

Published: 25 October 2013

Abstract

Background

We examined the relationship of musculoskeletal risk factors underlying force and repetition on tissue responses in an operant rat model of repetitive reaching and pulling, and if force x repetition interactions were present, indicative of a fatigue failure process. We examined exposure-dependent changes in biochemical, morphological and sensorimotor responses occurring with repeated performance of a handle-pulling task for 12 weeks at one of four repetition and force levels: 1) low repetition with low force, 2) high repetition with low force, 3) low repetition with high force, and 4) high repetition with high force (HRHF).

Methods

Rats underwent initial training for 4–6 weeks, and then performed one of the tasks for 12 weeks, 2 hours/day, 3 days/week. Reflexive grip strength and sensitivity to touch were assayed as functional outcomes. Flexor digitorum muscles and tendons, forelimb bones, and serum were assayed using ELISA for indicators of inflammation, tissue stress and repair, and bone turnover. Histomorphometry was used to assay macrophage infiltration of tissues, spinal cord substance P changes, and tissue adaptative or degradative changes. MicroCT was used to assay bones for changes in bone quality.

Results

Several force x repetition interactions were observed for: muscle IL-1alpha and bone IL-1beta; serum TNFalpha, IL-1alpha, and IL-1beta; muscle HSP72, a tissue stress and repair protein; histomorphological evidence of tendon and cartilage degradation; serum biomarkers of bone degradation (CTXI) and bone formation (osteocalcin); and morphological evidence of bone adaptation versus resorption. In most cases, performance of the HRHF task induced the greatest tissue degenerative changes, while performance of moderate level tasks induced bone adaptation and a suggestion of muscle adaptation. Both high force tasks induced median nerve macrophage infiltration, spinal cord sensitization (increased substance P), grip strength declines and forepaw mechanical allodynia by task week 12.

Conclusions

Although not consistent in all tissues, we found several significant interactions between the critical musculoskeletal risk factors of force and repetition, consistent with a fatigue failure process in musculoskeletal tissues. Prolonged performance of HRHF tasks exhibited significantly increased risk for musculoskeletal disorders, while performance of moderate level tasks exhibited adaptation to task demands.

Keywords:
Overuse; Reaching and grasping task; Musculoskeletal disorders; Repetitive strain injury; Cytokines; HSP72; TGFB1