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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Upper limb neuropathy in computer operators? A clinical case study of 21 patients

Jørgen Riis Jepsen

Author Affiliations

Department of Occupational Medicine, Sydvestjysk Sygehus, Østergade 81-83, DK-6700 Esbjerg, Denmark

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2004, 5:26  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-5-26

Published: 13 August 2004

Abstract

Background

The character of upper limb disorder in computer operators remains obscure and their treatment and prevention have had limited success. Symptoms tend to be mostly perceived as relating to pathology in muscles, tendons or insertions. However, the conception of a neuropathic disorder would be supported by objective findings reflecting the common complaints of pain, subjective weakness, and numbness/tingling. By examining characteristics in terms of symptoms, signs, and course, this study aimed at forming a hypothesis concerning the nature and consequences of the disorder.

Methods

I have studied a consecutive series of 21 heavily exposed and severely handicapped computer-aided designers. Their history was recorded and questionnaire information was collected, encompassing their status 1/2 – 1 1/2 years after the initial clinical contact. The physical examination included an assessment of the following items: Isometric strength in ten upper limb muscles; sensibility in five homonymously innervated territories; and the presence of abnormal tenderness along nerve trunks at 14 locations.

Results

Rather uniform physical findings in all patients suggested a brachial plexus neuropathy combined with median and posterior interosseous neuropathy at elbow level. In spite of reduced symptoms at follow-up, the prognosis was serious in terms of work-status and persisting pain.

Conclusions

This small-scale study of a clinical case series suggests the association of symptoms to focal neuropathy with specific locations. The inclusion of a detailed neurological examination would appear to be advantageous with upper limb symptoms in computer operators.