Gabriel Ibarra-Mejia, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of public health sciences at UTEP, has received a grant to identify strategies to prevent upper extremity disorders in the workplace, such as tennis elbow, which occur when tendons degenerate or wear out from long-term overuse.
Funded by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Ibarra-Mejia will lead the interdisciplinary project with co-principal investigators Jacen M. Moore, Ph.D., clinical laboratory sciences assistant professor, and Kevin L. Browne, Ph.D., physical therapy assistant professor. The team also will include Kyle L. Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences and director of UTEP’s Genomic Analysis Core Facility, and Daniel Conde, a Ph.D. candidate in the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program.
“Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are a worldwide problem and a major occupational health concern, which have been estimated to cost more than $300 billion annually in direct health care expenditures and lost earnings, particularly through loss of productivity,” Ibarra-Mejia said.
“Tendon degeneration and injury account for 20 to 30 percent of all work-related musculoskeletal disorders and result in impaired function and persistent pain.”
Researchers will examine factors that increase the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the upper limbs, including arms, elbows and shoulders. Other common injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome and trigger finger.
Repetitive movements, sitting or standing in awkward positions, and poor workstation layout and design can overload the tendons, causing pain or stiffness. By identifying early cellular and molecular indicators of tendon overload, researchers plan to develop screening tests to identify employees at risk for musculoskeletal disorders and develop workplace interventions to prevent future injuries.
Currently, tendon injuries can only be diagnosed after damage to the tendon has occurred. These injuries can be detected through an MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging), ultrasound, physical exam, or biopsy, Ibarra-Mejia said.
Ibarra-Mejia has been a UTEP faculty member since 2006. His research interests include occupational and environmental health and ergonomics. He will serve a second term as president of the International Society for Occupational Ergonomics and Safety (ISOES) in June 2019.