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Neck 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 to researchers.

"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 stated.

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.


Reference Source 89

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