Open Access Research article

Perceived exertion, comfort and working technique in professional computer users and associations with the incidence of neck and upper extremity symptoms

Agneta Lindegård1*, Jens Wahlström2, Mats Hagberg3, Rebecka Vilhelmsson4, Allan Toomingas5 and Ewa Wigaeus Tornqvist6

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Stress Medicine, Göteborg, Sweden

2 Department of Public Health & Clinical Medicine, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

3 Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy and University hospital, Göteborg, Sweden

4 Clinical Information Science AstraZeneca R & D, Mölndal, Sweden

5 Karolinska Institutet, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Stockholm, Sweden

6 School of Health Sciences, Jönköping University, Jönköping, Sweden

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2012, 13:38  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-13-38

Published: 21 March 2012

Abstract

Background

The aim of this study was to investigate whether perceived exertion, perceived comfort and working technique is associated with the incidence of neck and upper extremity symptoms among professional computer users.

Methods

At baseline a self-administered questionnaire was distributed to 853 participants from 46 different work sites (382 men and 471 women) who, at baseline, had been free from neck and upper extremity symptoms during the preceding month. Work-related exposures, individual factors, and symptoms from the neck and upper extremities were assessed. Observations of working technique were performed by ergonomists using an ergonomic checklist. Incidence data were collected by means of 10 monthly questionnaires, asking for information on the occurrence of neck, shoulder and arm/hand symptoms. Perceived exertion was rated on a modified Borg RPE scale ranging from 0 (very, very light) to 14 (very, very strenuous). Perceived comfort was rated on a 9-point scale ranging from -4 (very, very poor) to +4 (very, very good) in relation to the chair, computer screen, keyboard, and computer mouse.

Results

The median follow up time was 10.3 months. The incidence of symptoms from the neck, shoulders and arm/hands were 50, 24 and 34 cases per 100 person years, respectively.

Higher perceived exertion in the neck, shoulder or arm/hands was associated with an increased risk of developing symptoms in the corresponding body region. Moreover, a dose-response relationship between the level of exertion and the risk of developing symptoms was recorded for all three regions. There was an association between low comfort and an increased risk for neck symptoms, but not for shoulder and arm/hand symptoms, although a trend towards such an association (not statistically significant) could be seen. Working technique was, in this study, not associated with the risk of developing symptoms in any of the investigated body regions.

Conclusion

There was a strong association between high perceived exertion and the development of neck, shoulder, and arm/hand symptoms. Moreover, there was an association between poor perceived comfort and neck pain. Surveillance of computer users may include perceived exertion and comfort to target individuals at risk for neck and upper extremity symptoms.

Keywords:
Computer work; Perceived exertion; Perceived comfort; Working technique; neck and upper extremity disorders