STUDY OBJECTIVE: To determine whether there is a relationship between musculoskeletal disorders and presumed symptoms of stress. DESIGN: Cross sectional and mixed longitudinal cohort study. Longitudinal data were collected at baseline (1973) and at re-examinations in 1978 and 1983. SETTING: Community based. PARTICIPANTS: Study sample was drawn from employees who had worked for at least 15 months at government owned Valmet metal factories in Finland, and comprised 902 men and women out of a total eligible population of 2653; 74% of the women and 63% of the men took part in both re-examinations. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Musculoskeletal disorders were measured as rheumatic symptoms, clinical findings and presence of chronic specific diseases. Eighteen symptoms of stress were combined in a stress symptoms score. Stress symptoms were associated with rheumatic symptoms and clinical findings in all sex/occupational class groups at first examination (baseline); and the prevalence of chronic musculoskeletal disease was associated with stress symptoms in men and in blue collar women (skilled and semiskilled workers). The mean stress symptom score of 1973 and 1978 predicted the level of rheumatic symptoms and clinical findings in 1983, allowing for the relevant score at baseline. The mean score also predicted the incidence of disease during the second half of the follow up in women and in blue collar men. Rheumatic symptoms covaried with the stress symptoms. Change in stress symptoms was predicted by indices of musculoskeletal disorders. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that stress symptoms and musculoskeletal disorders are reciprocally related.
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