and Shoulder Pain
Common in Computer Users
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Neck and shoulder pain and stiffness
and medical disorders linked to these symptoms are more widespread
among computer users than previous studies suggest, according
"More than half of computer users each year develop neck or shoulder
symptoms and just over one-third develop an impairment or the loss
of some function," said researcher Dr. Frederic Gerr of the Rollins
School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Contrary to the results of previous studies, carpal tunnel syndrome
was among the least common of all conditions examined, affecting
1% of computer users in their first year at a new job, the investigators
note in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
"Carpal tunnel syndrome is not occurring in a staggering epidemic
proportion among computer users, but that does not mean that computer
users have no increased risk for carpal tunnel syndrome," Gerr
The study included 632 men and women newly hired in jobs requiring
15 or more hours per week of computer use. Study participants
recorded their work practices and symptoms in daily diaries for
3 years, and those who reported symptoms were evaluated by clinicians
to determine whether a disorder existed.
Researchers point out that this is the first prospective study
to follow a group of computer users over time, although previous
studies have reported the number of computer users experiencing
pain at a given point in time.
"What's different is that we can actually describe the number
of new cases per year, and that's something no one has ever described
in any previous study," Gerr told Reuters Health in an interview.
In other findings, hand and arm problems were also common. Nearly
40% of people develop a hand or arm symptom each year while using
a computer and 21% actually develop a disorder.
Women were more likely to report symptoms and develop disorders
than men are, the investigators found, but the reason for this
finding is unclear, they note.
The results of a companion study of the same group of computer
users suggest that maintaining specific postures while using a
computer can reduce pain and related medical conditions. Their
findings are not consistent with conventional recommendations
regarding posture and positioning of video display terminals.
According to the report, positioning the keyboard lower than
the elbow and some distance away from the computer user (with
an inner elbow angle at greater than 121 degrees), tilting the
head downward at the monitor and supporting the weight of the
arms, for example by using chair armrests, can lower the risk
of neck and shoulder symptoms and disorders.
In addition, the researchers conclude that spending more time
using a computer poses an increased risk of hand and arm symptoms
and disorders. "People who type 20 hours per week more than others
are a little more than twice as likely to develop a symptom or
disorder in the hand and arm region," Gerr said.
SOURCE: American Journal of Industrial Medicine 2002;41:221-249.
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