Forearm supports reduce upper body pain linked to computer use

Providing forearm support is an effective intervention to prevent musculoskeletal disorders of the upper body and aids in reducing upper body pain associated with computer work, according to a study in The British Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Reported in the April 18 issue, the study shows that use of large arm boards significantly reduces neck and shoulder pain as well as hand, wrist and forearm pain. "Based on these outcomes, employers should consider providing employees who use computers with appropriate forearm support," said lead author David Rempel, MD, MPH, director of the ergonomics program at San Francisco General Hospital and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Study findings also show arm boards and ergonomics training provide the most protective effect, with a statistically significant reduction in both neck and shoulder pain and right hand/wrist/forearm pain in comparison to the control group, who did not receive forearm support. The boards reduced the risk of incidence of neck and shoulder disorders by nearly half.

According to the authors, musculoskeletal disorders of the neck, shoulders and arms are a common occupational health problem for individuals involved in computer-based customer service work. Specific disorders include wrist tendonitis, elbow tendonitis and muscle strain of the neck and upper back. These health problems account for a majority of lost work time in call centers and other computer-based jobs. "Extended hours of mouse or keyboard use and sustained awkward postures, such as wrist extension, are the most consistently observed risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders," Rempel added.

The one year, randomized study evaluated the effects of two workstation interventions on the musculoskeletal health of call center employees -- a padded forearm support and a trackball. The forearm support is commonly called an arm board and attaches to the top

Contact: Vanessa deGier
University of California - San Francisco

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