Exploring “wear and tear” of joints and “muscle function” assumptions in skeletons with known occupation at death

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Changes in the joints are believed to result from “wear and tear,” a consequence of activity, as entheseal changes (EC) result from muscle use. However, clinical data showed that activity does not necessarily increase the likelihood of degenerative joint changes (DJC) and that exercise results in healthier joints. We tested whether individuals with continuous repetitive biomechanical efforts (Group 1) were more likely to exhibit EC and if occupations known to exert strenuous but discontinued efforts (Group 2) would more likely cause DJC. Materials and Methods: Eighty-nine males with known occupations from Portuguese identified collections were used: shoemakers and carpenters (Group 1), workers (Group 2), and civil servants, and shop assistants as a control group. Major upper and lower limb joints and entheses sites were used. DJC and EC were tested between occupations – while controlling for age (overall approach) – and within occupation (occupation-specific approach). Results: The overall approach showed that age – as a covariant – had a significant impact on DJC and EC development (p < 0.05), with occupation being non-significant (p > 0.05) despite the variability in the mean-values of lesions. The occupation-specific approach showed a significant variability of DJC and EC correlations, within and between occupations, with no clear trend of DJC and EC development according to occupation. Discussion: The results showed that exploring overall patterns might conceal occupation-specific joint and muscle use, emphasizing age as a major contributor of changes; and that the occupation-specific approach highlighted particular aspects associated with occupations, allowing for a more informative assessment of strenuous repetitive or discontinuous activity-related technical gestures and their impact on skeletal biology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)689-700
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Activity
  • Degenerative joint changes
  • Entheseal changes
  • Portuguese identified collections


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