An Ergonomic Evaluation of a Wrist Brace for Canadian Tree Planters
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Tree planting is one of the most physically demanding occupations in Canada and as a result, tree planters are at an elevated risk of injury, specifically at the wrist. Wrist injuries develop on account of the highly repetitive nature of the job, as well as other musculoskeletal risk factors including non-neutral wrist postures and high impact forces sustained at the wrist during shovel-ground impact. As a result, wrist brace use has become common among planters, in an effort to limit deviated wrist postures while also providing enhanced stability at the wrist. The external stability provided by a wrist brace is thought to reduce the muscular effort required to provide stiffness at the wrist during shovel-ground impact. Since these prospective benefits have not been formally investigated, the purpose of this study was to determine the effect of a wrist brace on wrist posture, muscle activity, and joint rotational stiffness about the wrist joint (for two degrees of freedom: flexion/extension and ulnar/radial deviation). We hypothesized that the brace would promote more neutrally aligned wrist angles, and that muscle activity and joint rotational stiffness would also decrease when participants wore the brace. Fourteen tree planters with at least one season of experience were recruited to complete two planting conditions in a laboratory setting: one condition while wearing the brace (with brace, WB) and one condition without the brace (no brace, NB). The results from this study showed that at shovel-ground impact muscle activity trended towards increasing in three muscles when participants wore the brace. Additionally, wrist angles improved about the flexion/extension axis of rotation while increasing in deviation about the ulnar/radial axis of rotation when participants wore the brace. Joint rotational stiffness increased when participants wore the wrist brace. Participants from this study indicated difficulty gripping the shovel due to the bulk of the wrist brace, and this feature is discussed with possible suggestions for future iterations of design. In addition to grip diameter this analysis also prompts the suggestion that hand length and experience should also be considered in the design of tree planting tools, specifically an ergonomic aid such as a wrist brace.