Computer terminal work and the benefit of microbreaks

Appl Ergon. 2001 Jun;32(3):225-37. doi: 10.1016/s0003-6870(00)00071-5.


Microbreaks are scheduled rest breaks taken to prevent the onset or progression of cumulative trauma disorders in the computerized workstation environment. The authors examined the benefit of microbreaks by investigating myoelectric signal (MES) behavior, perceived discomfort, and worker productivity while individuals performed their usual keying work. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups. Each participant provided data from working sessions where they took no breaks, and from working sessions where they took breaks according to their group assignment: microbreaks at their own discretion (control), microbreaks at 20 min intervals, and microbreaks at 40 min intervals. Four main muscle areas were studied: the cervical extensors, the lumbar erector spinae, the upper trapezius/supraspinatus, and the wrist and finger extensors. The authors have previously shown that when computer workers remained seated at their workstation, the muscles performing sustained postural contractions displayed a cyclic trend in the mean frequency (MNF) of the MES (McLean et al., J. Electrophysiol. Kinesiol. 10 (1) (2000) 33). The data provided evidence (p < 0.05) that all microbreak protocols were associated with a higher frequency of MNF cycling at the wrist extensors, at the neck when microbreaks were taken by the control and 40 min protocol groups, and at the back when breaks were taken by the 20 and 40 min protocol groups. No significant change in the frequency of MNF cycling was noted at the shoulder. It was determined (p < 0.05) that microbreaks had a positive effect on reducing discomfort in all areas studied during computer terminal work, particularly when breaks were taken at 20 min intervals. Finally, microbreaks showed no evidence of a detrimental effect on worker productivity. The underlying cause of MNF cycling, and its relationship to the development of discomfort or cumulative trauma disorders remains to be determined.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Computer Terminals*
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Efficiency
  • Electromyography
  • Ergonomics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / prevention & control
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / prevention & control
  • New Brunswick
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling*
  • Posture
  • Shoulder
  • Wrist Joint