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Exercise Better Than Ergonomics to Treat Upper-Body Work Injuries

Many conservative methods used to treat work-related complaints of the upper body have only limited effectiveness, according to an updated systematic review by Arianne Verhagen, Ph.D., and her colleagues in the Netherlands. Exercise, however, emerged as “a very good thing to do,” she said.//

Yet, “conservative interventions such as physiotherapy and ergonomic adjustments play a major role in the treatment of most work-related complaints of the arm, neck or shoulder,” said Verhagen, a physical therapist and epidemiologist at the Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam.

As for expensive ergonomic equipment like special keyboards and office furniture, little scientific evidence currently exists to support their use.

The review appears in the current issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates research in all aspects of health care. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing trials on a topic.

Verhagen updated a review published in 2003, which had included 15 trials. She added six new trials for a total of 2,110 adult participants. Most were industrial workers or hospital staff who suffered with chronic complaints varying between three and 12 months. Workers with inflammatory or neurological diseases were not included.

The randomized and nonrandomized controlled trials evaluated more than 25 conservative interventions including exercises, relaxation, ultrasound, biofeedback, myofeedback and workplace adjustments.

Verhagen said she is not surprised that exercise appeared most helpful to people suffering from chronic complaints of the arm, neck or shoulder.

“I am an evidence-based person, and exercise seems to be the best intervention from this review,” said Verhagen. “That’s what I do. When I treat patients, I know that
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