Poor grip strength can signal serious health issues
Newswise — Muscle strength is a powerful indicator of mortality that can be quickly and inexpensively assessed by measuring grip strength. In a new study, researchers have developed thresholds that apply to the general population, while taking into account the correlation of handgrip strength with gender, height and aging for use in medical practice.
Most people don’t mind opening jars of pickles or carrying groceries, but handle strength is an effective screening tool for different health conditions. If a person’s grip strength is poor, it could be an indication of underlying health problems – and not just in older people: grip strength has already been linked to health problems in young adults. . A large number of studies have shown that poor grip strength can be a manifestation of health problems related to heart and lung problems. Some studies have also shown that people with poor grip strength have a shorter life expectancy.
What is missing for clinical practice are empirically meaningful thresholds that apply to the general population, while taking into account the correlation of handgrip strength with gender and body size, as well as the decrease of handle strength due to normal aging.
In their study which has just been published in the journal BMJ open, IIASA researcher Sergei Scherbov; Sonja Spitzer, postdoctoral researcher at the Wittgenstein Center for Demography and Global Human Capital and the University of Vienna; and Nadia Steiber from the University of Vienna, attempted to shed some light on the level of grip strength at which a physician should consider sending a patient for further examination. The study results provide standardized thresholds that directly relate handgrip strength to remaining life expectancy, allowing practitioners to detect patients at increased mortality risk early.
“In general, grip strength depends on a person’s gender, age, and height. Our task was to find the threshold related to grip strength that would signal a practitioner to do further examinations if a patient’s grip strength is below this threshold. This is similar to measuring blood pressure. When the blood pressure level is outside a particular range, the doctor may either decide to prescribe a particular drug, or send the patient to a specialist for further examination,” Scherbov explains.
Grip strength is measured by squeezing a dynamometer with one hand. In the study, the patient is asked to make two attempts with each hand, with the best attempt being used for measurement. There is a special protocol for this process as the values may depend on whether the test was performed in a standing or seated position, among other considerations.
Unlike previous studies, the authors compared individuals’ grip strength not with a healthy reference population, but with individuals comparable in gender, age, and body size. The results indicate an increase in mortality risk at a more sensitive threshold than that estimated in previous studies. In fact, the results show that a grip strength that is only slightly lower than the average of a comparable population (taking into account a person’s gender, age and height) indicates problems with health leading to earlier death. A stronger handgrip compared to other people of the same age, sex and body size did not reduce mortality risk.
“Handgrip strength is a cheap and easy test to perform, but it can aid in the early diagnosis of health problems and other underlying health conditions. Monitoring grip strength in the elderly (and in fact middle-aged people) may offer great public health benefits to aging populations.Our results clearly show that grip strength is a very accurate and sensitive measure of underlying health conditions.Therefore, we suggest that it be used as a screening tool in medical practice,” notes Steiber.
“It is important to emphasize that we are not suggesting that people should train grip strength specifically to reduce mortality risk. Most likely, if someone improves their grip strength through exercise, there will be no or very little impact on their overall health. However, low grip strength can serve as an indicator of disability because it reflects low muscle strength, which is associated with a higher risk of death. A healthy lifestyle and exercise remain the best approaches to maintaining good health or improving it over the long term,” Spitzer concludes.
Scherbov, S., Spitzer, S., Steiber, N. (2022). Thresholds for clinical practice that directly relate grip strength to remaining years of life: estimates based on longitudinal observational data. BMJ open DO I: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-058489 [pure.iiasa.ac.at/18125]
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international scientific institute that conducts research on the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological and social change facing us in the 21st century. Our findings offer valuable options for policy makers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by prestigious research funding agencies in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. iiasa.ac.at