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Besides the history, a proper clinical examination is always necessary. Deformities, function disturbances, the blood circulation and the neurological state should be carefully examined. Analysis of gait may be indicated. Plain radiographs, CT, MRI, sonography, ENMG, vascular imaging and blood tests may contribute to the pathological and aetiological diagnosis and treatment.
The causes of problems are usually multifactorial, but most often they arise from biomechanical factors, infections and/or systemic diseases. Foot, knee and leg deformities, bone and/or soft-tissue changes that follow an injury, excessive stress such as repetitive use, instability or stiffness and improper shoes are common causes of these symptoms. Infections may occur in the bony or soft tissues. Diabetes, rheumatic diseases, psoriasis, gout and blood circulation disturbances often lead to such symptoms in the lower limb.
In general, pain is the main symptom of disorders of the leg, ankle and foot. It often follows exercise and may be aggravated by exercise. Muscle weakness, neurological deficiency, problems with fitting shoes, instability or stiffness of joints, and difficulties in walking and running are common problems in these disorders.
The pathology at an acute stage of the disease is characterized by the accumulation of fluid and a substance called fibrin in the tendon sheath in tenosynovitis, and in the paratenon and between the muscle cells in peritendinitis. Later, cell growth is noticed (Moore 1992).
Tenosynovitis of the flexor tendons at the palmar aspect of the wrist may cause entrapment of the median nerve as it runs through the wrist, resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome.
In tenosynovitis the tendon sheath area is painful, especially at the ends of the tendon sheath. The movements of the tendon are restricted or locked, and there is weakness in gripping. The symptoms are often worst in the morning, and functional ability improves after some activity. The tendon sheath area is tender on palpation, and tender nodes may be found. Bending of the wrist increases pain. The tendon sheath area may also be swollen, and bending the wrist back and forth may produce crepitation or crackling. In peritendinitis, a typical fusiform swelling is often visible on the backside of the forearm.
Frequent repetition of work movements and high force demands on the hand are powerful risk factors, especially when they occur together (Silverstein, Fine and Armstrong 1986). Generally accepted values for acceptable repetitiveness and use of force do not, however, yet exist (Hagberg et al. 1995). Being unaccustomed to hand-intensive work, either as a new worker or after an absence from work, increases the risk. Deviated or bent postures of the wrist at work and low environmental temperature have also been considered as risk factors, although the epidemiological evidence to support this is weak. Tenosynovitis and peritendinitis occur at all ages. Some evidence exists that women might be more susceptible than men (Silverstein, Fine and Armstrong 1986). This has, however, been difficult to investigate, because in many industries the tasks differ so widely between women and men. Tenosynovitis may be due to bacterial infection, and some systemic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout are often associated with tenosynovitis. Little is known about other individual risk factors.
It should be emphasized that tenosynovitis or peritendinitis that is clinically identifiable as occupational is found in only a minor proportion of cases of wrist and forearm pain among working populations. The majority of workers first seek medical attention with the symptom of tenderness to palpation as the sole clinical finding. It is not fully known whether the pathology in such conditions is similar to that in tenosynovitis or peritendinitis.
The occurrence of tenosynovitis or peritendinitis varies widely according to the type of work. High incidences have been reported typically among manufacturing workers, such as food-processing workers, butchers, packers and assemblers. Some recent studies show that high incidence rates exist even in modern industries, as shown in . Tendon disorders are more common on the back side than on the flexor side of the wrist. Upper extremity pain and other symptoms are prevalent also in other types of tasks, such as modern keyboard work. The clinical signs that keyboard workers present are, however, rarely compatible with tenosynovitis or peritendinitis.
The terminology for the diseases of the tendon and its adjacent structures is often used loosely, and sometimes "tendinitis" has been used for all painful conditions in the forearm-wrist-hand region, regardless of the type of clinical appearance. In North America an umbrella diagnosis "cumulative trauma disorder" (CTD) has been used for all upper extremity soft tissue disorders believed to be caused, precipitated or aggravated by repetitive exertions of the hand. In Australia and some other countries, the diagnosis of "repetitive strain injury" (RSI) or "overuse injury" has been used, while in Japan the concept of "occupational cervicobrachial disorder" (OCD) has covered soft-tissue disorders of the upper limb. The two latter diagnoses include also shoulder and neck disorders.