Muscle activity is for decades considered to provide health benefits irrespectively of the muscle activity pattern performed and whether it is during e.g. sports, transportation, or occupational work tasks. Accordingly, the international recommendations for public health-promoting physical activity do not distinguish between occupational and leisure time physical activity. However, in this body of literature, attention has not been paid to the extensive documentation on occupational physical activity imposing a risk of impairment of health - in particular musculoskeletal health in terms of muscle pain. Focusing on muscle activity patterns and musculoskeletal health it is pertinent to elucidate the more specific aspects regarding exposure profiles and body regional pain. Static sustained muscle contraction for prolonged periods often occurs in the neck/shoulder area during occupational tasks and may underlie muscle pain development in spite of rather low relative muscle load. Causal mechanisms include a stereotype recruitment of low threshold motor units (activating type 1 muscle fibers) characterized by a lack of temporal as well as spatial variation in recruitment. In contrast during physical activities at leisure and sport the motor recruitment patterns are more dynamic including regularly relatively high muscle forces - also activating type 2 muscles fibers - as well as periods of full relaxation even of the type 1 muscle fibers. Such activity is unrelated to muscle pain development if adequate recovery is granted. However, delayed muscle soreness may develop following intensive eccentric muscle activity (e.g. down-hill skiing) with peak pain levels in thigh muscles 1-2days after the exercise bout and a total recovery within 1week. This acute pain profile is in contrast to the chronic muscle pain profile related to repetitive monotonous work tasks. The painful muscles show adverse functional, morphological, hormonal, as well as metabolic characteristics. Of note is that intensive muscle strength training actually may rehabilitate painful muscles, which has recently been repeatedly proven in randomized controlled trials. With training the maximal muscle activation and strength can be shown to recover, and consequently allow for decreased relative muscle load during occupational repetitive work tasks. Exercise training induces adaptation of metabolic and stress-related mRNA and protein responses in the painful muscles, which is in contrast to the responses evoked during repetitive work tasks per se.
Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 2014, Vol 24, Issue 6