Open Access Open Badges Research article

Experiences of employees with arm, neck or shoulder complaints: a focus group study

Nathan Hutting12*, Yvonne F Heerkens1, Josephine A Engels1, J Bart Staal12 and Maria WG Nijhuis-van der Sanden2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Occupation and Health, HAN University of Applied Sciences, P.O. Box 6960, 6503 GL Nijmegen, The Netherlands

2 Radboud university medical center, Scientific Institute for Quality of Healthcare, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2014, 15:141  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-15-141

Published: 29 April 2014



Many people suffer from complaints of the arm, neck or shoulder (CANS). CANS causes significant work problems, including absenteeism (sickness absence), presenteeism (decreased work productivity) and, ultimately, job loss. There is a need for intervention programs for people suffering from CANS. Management of symptoms and workload, and improving the workstyle, could be important factors in the strategy to deal with CANS. The objective of this study is to evaluate the experienced problems of employees with CANS, as a first step in an intervention mapping process aimed at adaptation of an existing self-management program to the characteristics of employees suffering from CANS.


A qualitative study comprising three focus group meetings with 15 employees suffering from CANS. Based on a question guide, participants were asked about experiences in relation to continuing work despite their complaints. Data were analysed using content analysis with an open-coding system. During selective coding, general themes and patterns were identified and relationships between the codes were examined.


Participants suffering from CANS often have to deal with pain, disability, fatigue, misunderstanding and stress at work. Some needs of the participants were identified, i.e. disease-specific information, exercises, muscle relaxation, working with pain, influence of the work and/or social environment, and personal factors (including workstyle).


Employees suffering from CANS search for ways to deal with their complaints in daily life and at work. This study reveals several recurring problems and the results endorse the multi-factorial origin of CANS. Participants generally experience problems similar to those of employees with other types of complaints or chronic diseases, e.g. related to their illness, insufficient communication, working together with healthcare professionals, colleagues and management, and workplace adaptations. These topics will be addressed in the adaptation of an existing self-management program to the characteristics of employees suffering from CANS.

CANS; Employee; Patient perspective; Work-related upper extremity disorders; WRUED