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Open Access Research article

Computer-associated health complaints and sources of ergonomic instructions in computer-related issues among Finnish adolescents: A cross-sectional study

Paula T Hakala123*, Lea A Saarni12, Ritva L Ketola4, Erja T Rahkola5, Jouko J Salminen6 and Arja H Rimpelä1

Author Affiliations

1 Tampere School of Public Health, FIN-33014 University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland

2 Tampere University Hospital, P.O Box 2000, FIN-33421, Tampere, Finland

3 City of Helsinki, Health Center, P.O Box 6100, FIN-00099, Helsinki, Finland

4 Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Topeliuksenkatu 41 a A, 00250 Helsinki, Finland

5 Rovaniemi University of Applied Sciences, Porokatu 35, 96400 Rovaniemi, Finland

6 Department of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, University Hospital of Turku, P.O.Box 52, FIN-20520 Turku, Finland

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:11  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-11

Published: 11 January 2010



The use of computers has increased among adolescents, as have musculoskeletal symptoms. There is evidence that these symptoms can be reduced through an ergonomics approach and through education. The purpose of this study was to examine where adolescents had received ergonomic instructions related to computer use, and whether receiving these instructions was associated with a reduced prevalence of computer-associated health complaints.


Mailed survey with nationally representative sample of 12 to 18-year-old Finns in 2001 (n = 7292, response rate 70%). In total, 6961 youths reported using a computer. We tested the associations of computer use time and received ergonomic instructions (predictor variables) with computer-associated health complaints (outcome variables) using logistic regression analysis.


To prevent computer-associated complaints, 61.2% reported having been instructed to arrange their desk/chair/screen in the right position, 71.5% to take rest breaks. The older age group (16-18 years) reported receiving instructions or being self-instructed more often than the 12- to 14-year-olds (p < 0.001). Among both age groups the sources of instructions included school (33.1%), family (28.6%), self (self-instructed) (12.5%), ICT-related (8.6%), friends (1.5%) and health professionals (0.8%). Receiving instructions was not related to lower prevalence of computer-associated health complaints.


This report shows that ergonomic instructions on how to prevent computer-related musculoskeletal problems fail to reach a substantial number of children. Furthermore, the reported sources of instructions vary greatly in terms of reliability.