BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2018 19:182

Dose-response relationship between cumulative physical workload and osteoarthritis of the hip – a meta-analysis applying an external reference population for exposure assignment

Andreas Seidler, Laura Lüben, Janice Hegewald, Ulrich Bolm-Audorff, Annekatrin Bergmann, Falk Liebers, Christina Ramdohr, Karla Romero Starke, Alice Freiberg & Susanne Unverzagt


There is consistent evidence from observational studies of an association between occupational lifting and carrying of heavy loads and the diagnosis of hip osteoarthritis. However, due to the heterogeneity of exposure estimates considered in single studies, a dose-response relationship between cumulative physical workload and hip osteoarthritis could not be determined so far.


This study aimed to analyze the dose-response relationship between cumulative physical workload and hip osteoarthritis by replacing the exposure categories of the included studies with cumulative exposure values of an external reference population. Our meta-regression analysis was based on a recently conducted systematic review (Bergmann A, Bolm-Audorff U, Krone D, Seidler A, Liebers F, Haerting J, Freiberg A, Unverzagt S, Dtsch Arztebl Int 114:581–8, 2017). The main analysis of our meta-regression comprised six case-control studies for men and five for women. The population control subjects of a German multicentre case-control study (Seidler A, Bergmann A, Jäger M, Ellegast R, Ditchen D, Elsner G, Grifka J, Haerting J, Hofmann F, Linhardt O, Luttmann A, Michaelis M, Petereit-Haack G, Schumann B, Bolm-Audorff U, BMC Musculoskelet Disord 10:48, 2009) served as the reference population. Based on the sex-specific cumulative exposure percentiles of the reference population, we assigned exposure values to each category of the included studies using three different cumulative exposure parameters. To estimate the doubling dose (the amount of physical workload to double the risk of hip osteoarthritis) on the basis of all available case-control-studies, meta-regression analyses were conducted based on the linear association between exposure values of the reference population and the logarithm of reported odds ratios (ORs) from the included studies.


In men, the risk to develop hip osteoarthritis was increased by an OR of 1.98 (95% CI 1.20–3.29) per 10,000 tons of weights ≥20 kg handled, 2.08 (95% CI 1.22–3.53) per 10,000 tons handled > 10 times per day and 8.64 (95% CI 1.87–39.91) per 106 operations. These estimations result in doubling dosages of 10,100 tons of weights ≥20 kg handled, 9500 tons ≥20 kg handled > 10 times per day and 321,400 operations of weights ≥20 kg. There was no linear association between manual handling of weights at work and risk to develop hip osteoarthritis in women.


Under specific conditions, the application of an external reference population allows for the derivation of a dose-response relationship despite high exposure heterogeneities in the pooled studies.

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