Pruning Muscle Disorders Repetitive Motion Injury

Introduction – epidemiology

  • Orchard pruning injuries occur when a worker performs the same motions over and over again for hours on end—often in awkward and unnatural positions, frequently in cold weather.
  • Although there are no specific study data on repetitive motion pruning injuries on small orchards, this type of injury is frequently reported, and is consistent with data on pruning in other crops
  • For example, in a recent study of ergonomic exposures during vineyard pruning, some of the very highest ergonomic stress exposures occurred during “lopping, sucker removal, disbudding,” which are the tasks most similar to orchard pruning work.
    (Bernard C, Courouve L, Bouée S, Adjémian A, Chrétien JC, Niedhammer I. Biomechanical and Psychosocial Work Exposures and Musculoskeletal Symptoms among Vineyard Workers. J Occup Health. 2011 Oct 13;53(5):297-311.)

Muscle strain due to overuse or repetitive motion – In most cases the symptoms do not arise from one acute episode of significant trauma but are the result of continual exposure to repetitive force and micro-trauma that exceeds the ability of the body to recover and adequately repair structural damage. Musculoskeletal pain is a common symptom of muscle strain, and is often the only means of diagnosing the condition. The most recent data available from the National Agricultural Workers Survey show that 11% of agricultural workers have musculoskeletal pain during their first year of work; this increases to 19% by the time they have worked 10+ years.

In addition to general overwork and repetitive motion, certain locations of muscle strain have been found to be associated with specific types of agricultural activity:

  • Back, neck and shoulder strain – weight bearing, twisting and reaching common in orchard harvest work, and loading and packing of all types of produce;
  • Hand and wrist strain – orchard and vineyard pruning, blueberry raking, dairy farming, nursery and horticulture work;
  • Low back pain and lower extremity pain – stoop work associated with weeding and ground crop harvest work, and blueberry raking.

For more information, see Chronic Occupational Repetitive Strain Injury by B. O’Neil, and colleagues.

Farmworker diagnosis and treatment links:

Farmworker prevention and education links: