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Workplace Factors
Identifying the causes of back and arm pain in an office environment

At a glance:
A number of factors influence muscular pain. This study shows that ergonomic
ergonomic
Designing activities and the workplace in a way to minimize discomfort. i.e. Adapting work tasks, hours, or workstation to accommodate people. An ergonomic computer workstation allows the person to work in the best position to relieve load on the muscles of the neck and arms.
 factors in an office environment influence the likelihood of arm and back symptoms. Other factors include, time pressure and the ability to constantly process and think through information.
Perspectives:
Employee
A range of factors can increase pain in the arm or back. If you have concerns about the set-up of your workstation, or that the flow of your work is contributing to health issues, speak to your employer.
Employer
During the 1980s there was an epidemic of RSI or repetitive strain
strain
Injury to a muscle in which the muscle fibres tear or become irritated as a result of overstretching or wrenching
 injury. Over time it became apparent that ergonomic factors were playing a role. Other factors, such as a person's feeling of well-being, their sense of confidence in the job and workplace support were also important. The study indicates that time pressures and constantly processing information can contribute to arm or back soreness.
Treater
Medical treatments can help some people with back pain symptoms, although they are particularly unsuccessful in treating arm pain. This study indicates that workplace factors play a role, and that thinking about the way the job is done, modifying some of these factors, and offering an opportunity to improve management of the condition, is important.
Insurer
Changing a person's workstation setup is critical, but encouraging the employer to think broadly about the job, there capability for the role, time pressures, workplace relations etc, is worthwhile in musculoskeletal
musculoskeletal
Involving the muscles and the skeleton. This term includes the limbs, neck, shoulders and back. 'Musculoskeletal problem' refers to many different conditions that can affect the tendons, muscles and related structures.
 cases.
Original Article, Authors & Publication Details:
Grant DH, Michael F.

Identifying Work Organization Targets for a Work-Related Musculoskeletal Symptom Prevention Program. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation
rehabilitation
The process of helping a person back to their former abilities and quality of life (or as close as possible) after injury or a medical condition.
 2004;14(1):13
Background, Study Objectives, How It Was Done:
Musculoskeletal problems impact employee's health, ability to function, and productivity. The authors of this study noted that musculoskeletal outcomes have been shown to relate to medical, ergonomic, psychosocial
psychosocial
Refers to psychological and social factors. Examples of psychosocial factors that affect return to work area include: a person's beliefs about how they will cope with their condition, the attitude of the inured worker's family to their condition and return to work, the employer's return to work policy and the influence of the WorkCover system on a person.
 and workplace organisational factors.

Workplace organisational factors include:

1. Job design
2. Work scheduling
3. Interpersonal components
4. Career concerns
5. Management style
6. Organisational characteristics

The authors suggest that there has been a focus on the biomechanical
biomechanical
Refers to the physical stresses on the body. For example, biomechanical models can calculate physical stresses occurring at the discs
disc
A 'cushion' between vertebrae in the spine. Each disc helps form a joint to allow movement between the vertebrae.  Disks
disk
A 'cushion' between vertebrae in the spine. Each disc helps form a joint to allow movement between the vertebrae. Disks have a fibrous outer layer surrounding a jelly-like core, which functions to absorb impact in the spine. Alternative spelling: disc.
  have a fibrous outer layer surrounding a jelly-like core, which functions to absorb impact in the spine. Alternative spelling: disk.
 in the low back joints in the body.
 conditions, such as the postures adopted to work, the physical strain on the body or the level of repetition in tasks. There has been significantly less research conducted on psychosocial factors in the workplace, and the influence on work outcomes.

The authors of this study sought to develop practical information about workplace organisational factors that can help a return to work.

The study obtained information from 250 United States Marines. The Marines were asked about soreness in their arms and back, the physical demands of the job and psychosocial factors at home and work. The results were analysed, put through appropriate statistical techniques, and associations between symptoms and workplace organisational factors analysed.

People were asked about ergonomic factors, or how their workstation was set up. They were also asked about job stress, including time pressure, mental and interpersonal demands, management style, job responsibility and career concerns. Questionnaires identified an individual's personality, psychosocial status, and health including musculoskeletal symptoms and daily ability to function.
Study Findings:
The participants were mainly office-based workers. Only people who had no clear identifying cause for their problem, such as a car accident or sport injury were included in the study.

30% of people reported they did not have any symptoms. 20% advised that they were sore in the low back, and 21% indicated they had soreness in the arms. Approximately 29% indicated they had both low back and arms soreness.

The average age of the participant was 28, and the majority male.

The study found that:
Ergonomic stresses, such as having to adopt awkward postures, were a risk factor for symptoms
Time pressure was a significant risk factor for all groups
Having to think and process information made it more likely that staff would have both lower back and arm pain
Interpersonal demands did not increase the risk of symptoms
Conclusions:
The authors of this study found an association between ergonomic factors in an office environment and back and arm symptoms. They also found that people who believed they were under time pressure were more likely to experience soreness in the back or arms, as were workers who were required to constantly process and think through high-level information.
References:
No PubMed Abstract
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