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Suffering from computer ache: try forearm support

A study in The British Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine proclaims that forearm support is an effective intervention to prevent musculoskeletal disorders. // Specially of the upper body and aids in reducing upper body pain associated with computer work.

In the words of 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, "Based on these outcomes, employers should consider providing employees who use computers with appropriate forearm support."

The authors say that musculoskeletal disorders of the neck, shoulders and arms are a common occupational health problem for individuals involved in computer-based customer service work. Those people most commonly suffer from wrist tendonitis, elbow tendonitis and muscle strain of the neck and upper back.

"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 effects of two workstation interventions on the musculoskeletal health of call center employees -- a padded forearm support and a trackball; were evaluated in this randomized study that lasted one year. The forearm support is commonly called an arm board and attaches to the top front edge of the work surface. The trackball replaces a computer mouse and uses a large ball for cursor motion.

Employees had to perform computer based customer service work for a minimum of 20 hours per week in order to qualify for the study. For one year, 182 participants filled out a weekly questionnaire to assess pain level in their hands, wrists, arms, upper backs and shoulders.

The people were divided into four groups that were receiving: ergonomics training, training plus a trackball, training plus forearm support, or training with both a trackball and forearm support

The results were that the trackball intervention had no effect on right upper extremity disorders.

"Based on this study, it is in the best interest of the company and the employees to provide forearm supports and training," Rempel concluded.


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