The prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms in the construction industry: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Waleed Umer, Maxwell F. Antwi-Afari, Heng Li, Grace P.Y. Szeto, Arnold Y.L. Wong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Purpose: Although individual studies have reported high prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms (MSS) among construction workers, no systematic review has summarized their prevalence rates. Accordingly, this systematic review/meta-analysis aimed to synthesize MSS prevalence in different construction trades, gender and age groups, which may help develop specific ergonomic interventions. Methods: Nine databases were searched for articles related to the research objective. Two reviewers independently screened citations, extracted information and conducted quality assessment of the included studies. Meta-analyses were conducted on clinical and statistical homogenous data. Results: Thirty-five out of 1130 potential citations were included reporting diverse types of period prevalence and case definitions. Only the 1-year prevalence rates of MSS (defined as at least one episode of pain/MSS in the last year) at nine anatomical regions had sufficient homogeneous data for meta-analysis. Specifically, the 1-year prevalence of MSS was 51.1% for lower back, 37.2% for knee, 32.4% for shoulder, 30.4% for wrist, 24.4% for neck, 24.0% for ankle/foot, 20.3% for elbow, 19.8% for upper back, and 15.1% for hip/thigh. Female workers demonstrated a higher prevalence of MSS while there was insufficient information on the prevalence of trade-specific or age-related MSS. The quality assessments revealed that many included studies estimated prevalence solely based on self-reported data, and did not report non-respondents’ characteristics. Conclusions: Lumbar, knee, shoulder, and wrist MSS are the most common symptoms among construction workers. Future studies should standardize the reporting of period prevalence of MSS in different construction trades to allow meta-analyses and to develop relevant MSS prevention program.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-144
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health
Issue number2
Early online date31 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Construction
  • Epidemiology
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms
  • Prevalence
  • Systematic review
  • Work-related health


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