A new study conducted by the University of Utah has found that people at high risk of heart disease are significantly more likely to develop musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and rotator cuff tendinitis. The study analyzed data from 1,224 workers across various employment sectors in three states and found that participants who were at 15% higher risk of heart disease had four times the risk of developing one or more musculoskeletal disorders. Their risk of developing four or more musculoskeletal disorders was 17 times greater.
The lead author of the study, Kurt Hegmann, explained that these musculoskeletal disorders are common, affecting most people multiple times over a lifetime. Although they are quite common, there is little science investigating their cause. The researchers designed this study to comprehensively identify the risk factors driving these common problems so they could help prevent them.
The findings were striking, showing that the risks of developing musculoskeletal disorders were up to 17-fold, which is as strong as the relationship between lung cancer and smoking. The researchers concluded that reducing cardiovascular disease risks will reduce the risk of ever experiencing one of these common musculoskeletal injuries. Conversely, the more of these injuries one develops, the more critical it is to work to control that person's cardiovascular risks.
People who have musculoskeletal disorders might also reduce their activity levels, which could feed into an increased risk for other cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks. Therefore, musculoskeletal disorders might be regarded as potential “early warning signals” for cardiovascular disease, since they may appear in someone without apparent heart issues years or even decades before heart symptoms may appear.