Psychological and physical correlates of musculoskeletal symptoms in male professional divers and offshore workers

Ross, John. A. S.; Macdiarmid, Jennifer. I.; Rostron, Claire L.; Watt, Stephen. J. and Crawford, John. R. (2013). Psychological and physical correlates of musculoskeletal symptoms in male professional divers and offshore workers. Extreme Physiology and Medicine, 2, article no. 5.



Background: Underwater divers are more likely to complain of musculoskeletal symptoms than a control population. Accordingly, we conducted a study to determine whether musculoskeletal symptoms reflected observable physical disorder, to ascertain the relationship between symptoms and measures of mood, memory and executive function and to assess any need for future screening.

Methods: A 10% random sample of responders to a prior postal health questionnaire was examined (151 divers, 120 non-diving offshore workers). Participants underwent physical examination and a neuropsychological test battery for memory and executive function. Participants also completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale for anxiety (HADSa) and depression (HADSd), and questionnaires for physical health-related quality of life (SF36 PCS), mental health-related quality of life (SF36 MCS), memory (Cognitive Failures Questionnaire (CFQ), Prospective and Retrospective Memory Questionnaire (PRMQ)), executive function (dysexecutive syndrome questionnaire (DEX)), musculoskeletal symptoms (MSS) and general unrelated symptom reporting.

Results: Of participants with moderate/severe musculoskeletal symptoms, 52% had physical signs, and of participants with no symptoms, 73% had no physical signs. There was no difference in the prevalence of signs or symptoms between groups. Musculoskeletal symptoms were associated with lower SF36 PCS for both groups. In divers, musculoskeletal symptoms were associated with higher general unrelated symptom reporting and poorer scoring for HADSa, PRMQ, CFQ and DEX with scores remaining within the normative range. A positive physical examination was associated with general unrelated symptom reporting in divers. There were no differences in neuropsychological test scores attributable to either group or musculoskeletal symptoms.

Conclusions: Musculoskeletal symptoms were associated with physical signs, but this was not a strong effect. Reporting of musculoskeletal symptoms by the divers studied was also associated with a tendency to report symptoms generally or somatisation, and caution should be exercised regarding their interpretation as an indication of physical disease or their use for health screening.

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