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Forearm support may spare desk workers some pain

PainMay 01, 06

Equipping office desks with a simple forearm support may help prevent the pain that can come with long days at a computer, new research suggests.

In a year-long study of 182 workers at a call center, researchers found that those who received forearm supports for their desks were less likely to suffer pain in the neck, shoulders, arm, wrist or hand.

They were also less likely to be diagnosed with a musculoskeletal injury in the neck or shoulders, according to findings published in the British Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The forearm support used in the study was a padded board that attached to the front edge of workers’ desks. The support is placed right under the “meaty part” of the forearm, positioning computer users’ arms in a way that releases tension in the shoulder muscles, Dr. David Rempel, the lead study author, told Reuters Health.

Based on these findings, employers should consider providing forearm supports to workers who spend substantial time in front of a computer, according to Rempel, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

The results were less positive, though, for a device called the trackball - a large ball installed next to the computer keyboard that takes the place of the mouse. While it did ease some workers’ discomfort, others found it hard to use, Rempel said.

The study included employees at a large insurer’s call center, all of whom spent their workday at a computer. Some workers received a forearm support for their desks, while others received a trackball.

All employees were also given ergonomics training so they could learn how to make their entire workstation more comfortable.

Over the next year, Rempel’s team found, workers who used a forearm support were half as likely as those who received only ergonomics training to be diagnosed with a neck or shoulder injury. They also reported less pain in the neck, shoulders and right arm.

The cost of forearm supports—$75 to $100 each - is not negligible, Rempel said. But in a cost analysis, he and his colleagues found that the supports could be a worthwhile investment, considering the potential savings in medical and workers’ compensation expenses.

“They would pay for themselves in about 10 months,” Rempel said.

However, forearm supports alone are not sufficient, according to the researchers. Rempel said all employees should receive proper safety and ergonomics training to reduce their chances of on-the-job injuries.

SOURCE: British Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, April 18, 2006.

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