Increased use of computers in the modern office has resulted in neck and shoulder girdle pain demanding more precise attention from therapists and physicians. The haste to offer relief to these workers is preceding the full understanding of the musculoskeletal function of this region of the body. In this regard, what differentiates computer workers with neck pain from similar workers with no pain is unclear.

A cross-sectional study in Spine (2008) explored aspects of neck function in female office workers. The salient aspects of the study were as follows.

Method: Eighty-five office workers were recruited from 333 survey participants investigated for neck pain risk. The inclusion criteria were symptomatic workers in a seated computer workstation situation for > 2yrs while working for > 4 hours per day. Workers with a history of neck surgery, trauma, fibromyalgia, cervical radiculopathy or systemic illness were excluded from the study.
Objective measures included neck range of motion, EMG activity of the anterior and posterior neck muscles while performing unilateral hand coordination tasks.

Results: Workers with neck pain had reduced rotation range of motion and increased activity in the superficial neck flexors. Additionally the coordination-type activity resulted in greater activity in the cervical extensors bilaterally. On completion of the task, the upper trapezius and dominant side cervical extensors and anterior scalenes demonstrated an inability to relax. In general there was a “linear relationship between the workers’ self-reported levels of pain and disability and the movement/muscle function changes”.

Conclusion: Neck dysfunction in this group of office workers represent possible altered muscle recruitment strategy to stabilize the head and neck during work-related activities. Therapies involving exercise and ergonomic advice that address changes in muscle function associated with this type of work are likely to have meaningful results in this population.

Adapted from Spine (2008), 33(5): 555-563.
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About Hercules Grant

Hercules Grant, Phd Rehabilitation Science, Physiotherapist at Rejuvenation Health Services. Hercules completed his training with a Bachelor of Physical Therapy at the University of Alberta in 1984 and also completed a Masters in Educational Psychology at the same university. He provides mentor-ship to physical therapy students and physical therapy managers and has lectured on the spine and chronic pain. Hercules is also a past president of the College of Physical Therapists of Alberta and has an abiding interest in professional growth in rehabilitation in general. He holds a PhD in Rehabilitation Science from the University of Alberta. His interest is in the area of the impact of chronic diseases, with an emphasis on hypertension.