Tobacco Repetitive Motion Injuries

Introduction – epidemiology

  • Shade tobacco repetitive motion injuries occur when a worker performs the same motions over and over again for hours on end—often in awkward and unnatural positions. Some common postures and tasks associated with repetitive motion injury in shade tobacco are:
    • Workers must repeatedly reach for the flowers on top of the plants, causing pain/strain.
    • Repetitive, quick motions are made when cutting off the flower, which may cause repetitive strain injuries.
    • 1st priming: Must sit or severely bend to reach the leaves.
    • 2nd and 3rd primings: Must kneel or stoop for long periods of time.
    • Rest of primings: Depending on plant height, may have moderate trunk flexion or may stand up straight to reach leaves (shown below).
    • Leaves are “snapped” in either a quick, upward motion or a traditional quick, downward motion causing repetitive strain injuries.
  • Although there are no specific study data on repetitive motion pruning injuries on shade tobacco, this type of injury is frequently reported, and is consistent with data on pruning in other crops.
  • For example, in a recent study of ergonomic exposures during vineyard pruning, some of the very highest ergonomic stress exposures occurred during “lopping, sucker removal, disbudding,” which are the tasks most similar to orchard pruning work (Bernard C, Courouve L, Bouée S, Adjémian A, Chrétien JC, Niedhammer I. Biomechanical and Psychosocial Work Exposures and Musculoskeletal Symptoms among Vineyard Workers. J Occup Health. 2011 Oct 13;53(5):297-311.).

Muscle strain due to overuse or repetitive motion – In most cases the symptoms do not arise from one acute episode of significant trauma but are the result of continual exposure to repetitive force and micro-trauma that exceeds the ability of the body to recover and adequately repair structural damage. Musculoskeletal pain is a common symptom of muscle strain, and is often the only means of diagnosing the condition. The most recent data available from the National Agricultural Workers Survey show that 11% of agricultural workers have musculoskeletal pain during their first year of work; this increases to 19% by the time they have worked 10+ years.

For more information, see Chronic Occupational Repetitive Strain Injury by O’Neil, et al.

Farmworker diagnosis and treatment links:

Farmworker prevention and education links: