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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.