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  • From PTJ: Office Work Doesn't Have To Be a Pain in the Neck

    Office workers with neck pain may benefit from workplace-based strengthening exercises, especially those focused on the neck and shoulder, say authors of a recent systematic review.

    Among all occupations, office workers are at the highest risk for neck pain, with approximately half of all office workers experiencing neck pain each year. “Workplace-based interventions are becoming important to reduce the burden of neck pain,” researchers write, “due to the increasing responsibility of companies toward employee health, and the potential cost-savings and productivity gains associated with a healthy workforce.”

    The review of 27 randomized controlled trials (RCTs), published in the January issue of Physical Therapy (PTJ), focused specifically on office workers, whereas previous reviews of effectiveness of workplace interventions for neck pain have focused on workers in general. Authors also compared results between subgroups of office workers with and without neck pain. The included RCTs measured “neck and/or neck/shoulder pain intensity and incidence/prevalence” and used control groups for comparison.

    Among the findings:

    • Moderate-quality evidence suggested that workplace-based strengthening exercises reduced neck pain in office workers who were symptomatic, and the effect size was larger when those exercises focused on the neck and shoulder. Higher exercise participation rates resulted in greater benefits.
    • Neck/shoulder-specific strengthening exercises were not effective for a general population of office workers that included both those with and without neck pain.
    • Authors found “low-quality and conflicting evidence” for the effectiveness of ergonomic interventions among office workers in general (not specific to those with neck pain).
    • There was limited evidence for prevention of neck pain in office workers, but 1 trial suggested that “combined neck endurance and stretching exercises might be efficacious” for workers at risk for neck pain.
    • “Exercise interventions are best targeted toward symptomatic or ‘at risk’ office workers,” write authors, but “given that approximately half of office workers may suffer from neck pain within a 12-month period, it could be argued that interventions should be offered to all office workers” regardless of whether they have neck pain.

    Authors note that the studies included only self-reported pain measures, and suggest that future studies include functional outcomes, such as neck disability and sick leave. They also encourage future research to examine effectiveness of interventions for neck pain prevention among “symptomatic, asymptomatic, and possibly ‘at risk’” office workers.

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website

    Editor's note: Want more information on the physical therapist's role in employer-based health? Check out APTA's Working With Employers Toward Population-Based Health webpage. Resources include a blog post, magazine articles, and a recorded webinar titled "Direct-to-Employer Physical Therapy—Building Supply and Demand." Also worth checking out: this newly revised clinical practice guideline on neck pain, available at PTNow.


    • I have instructed countless neck and back pain sufferers in proper sitting posture to prevent and relieve their pain very quickly and effectively: before my intervention they exhibit flexed postures stooped over their computer or writing work, slouched posture for watching TV, reading and driving, sleeping etc. I instruct them to sit at the back of their seats and lean back against the backrest, have the elbows relaxed at their sides and the computer monitor directly in front of them and the mouse and keyboard within immediate reach from that position too prevent overuse of the head and spinal postural muscles. I advise good spinal alignment support techniques for sleeping, reclining, and driving, and the sitting position mentioned above at the computer for writing or knitting but to have the paper or knitting up at waist to chest level using chair positioning at a desk or table, or placing the knitting on one or two cushions on their lap so the head will rest upright on the spine without muscle use. I finally instruct them to perform neck extension and retraction exercises from time to time during sitting activities if tension is felt for quick relief of the pain. I wish I could reach every American and also change the manufacture of kyphotic seatbacks in most cars, so instead there would be good spinal alignment. Best wishes Ell

      Posted by Ellen Colley on 1/10/2018 7:01 PM

    • I have done workplace ergo presentations at 500+ workplaces for 100,000 workers.... many with our office ergo version. Client workplaces seeing great outcomes

      Posted by Lauren Hebert DPT OCS on 1/11/2018 1:03 PM

    • Neck and back pain has increasingly become a huge problem in the office, it's something that I definitely have dealt with myself. I agree that regular excercise and ergonomic furniture at the workspace is the best way of dealing with this issue that should not be ignored.

      Posted by Jon Muller on 2/7/2018 9:33 PM

    • Lovely information, very true and effective. Excellent post. The information you provided is useful to all of us. Keep on posting like this. Thanks for sharing.

      Posted by Parijatak Ayurveda on 10/2/2018 2:16 AM

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