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Strength Testing - 1. Introduction
  • Published Date:
    0/1/1900
Filetype[PDF-500.29 KB]


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    If we consider ergonomics to be an exercise in matching job demands to worker capabilities, one of the principal capabilities we must be concerned with is that of human strength. Our ability to evaluate different characteristics of muscular strength has increased dramatically over the past couple of decades with the development of new and increasingly sophisticated instrumentation. One would think that armed with such advanced techniques, we might be able to develop methods to conclusively identify workers at risk of injury in physically demanding jobs. Unfortunately, this has not yet proven to be the case. Instead, what these instruments have continued to point out is how intricate a function muscular strength really is, and how complicated and ambiguous its relationship is to musculoskeletal injury. While we cannot just use isolated tests of strength to specify precisely who may be at risk of injury, studies have indicated that strength testing can be a useful tool for job design and, under certain circumstances, selection of workers for demanding jobs. However, because strength is such a complex phenomenon, there has often been some confusion regarding the proper application and interpretation of strength tests in ergonomics, especially among persons not thoroughly familiar with the limitations and caveats associated with the available procedures. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss some of the fundamental principles of strength assessment in ergonomics, so that these procedures can be better applied to control the risk of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace 1.1. What is Strength? (And what are we Measuring?) Many of the complications associated with strength assessment arise from the simple fact that even our most sophisticated machinery does not directly measure the force or tension developed by a muscle in a living person. Instead, we can only observe the consequences of force development by a contracting muscle, or more likely, by a combination of muscles There are many ways in which we can measure the effects of muscular contraction, and the techniques we use can have a dramatic impact on the strength readings we will obtain. Consider the situation illustrated in Figure 1. In this example, the muscle exerts a constant force of 1000 Newtons (N). However, the forces we measure can vary quite dramatically depending on where we place the force cuff - from 167 N if we place it near the wrist to 500 N if we place it near the elbow. Which value should we select as properly representing the muscular strength for this elbow flexion exertion? The preceding example illustrates some important points with regard to strength assessment. Perhaps the most important is that "muscular strength is what is measured by an instrument" (Kroemer et al. 1999). It should also be clear from this example [ ] that two researchers could perform an elbow flexion strength experiqent on the same group of subjects, but if each selected different force cuff positions, they might end up with wildly differing estimates of strength. Differences in the strengths of various muscle groups in the published literature may be the results of differences in the procedures and measurement methods used by the experimenters Thus, it is critical that any strength data presented be accompanied by a detailed account of the manner in which the data were obtained. A few additional points need to be made with regard to the testing of human strength. We must be clear that what we are obtaining in such tests are not a person's maximal strength capability, but their maximal voluntary strength. The voluntary nature of the exertion introduces an unknown, but surely substantial, amount of variability in our measurements of strength. One can imagine two subjects with identical muscular strength capabilities, but with varying levels of motivation or discomfort tolerance, for example. We are likely to observe considerable differences in the voluntary force

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