Using a computer keyboard with the forearms unsupported has been proposed as a causal factor for neck/shoulder and arm/hand diagnoses. Recent laboratory and field studies have demonstrated that forearm support might be preferable to working in the traditional "floating" posture. The aim of this study was to determine whether providing forearm support when using a normal computer workstation would decrease musculoskeletal discomfort in intensive computer users in a call centre. A randomised controlled study (n = 59), of 6 weeks duration was conducted. Thirty participants (Group 1) were allocated to forearm support using the desk surface with the remainder (Group 2) acting as a control group. At 6 weeks, the control group was also set up with forearm support. Both groups were then monitored for another 6 weeks. Questionnaires were used at 1, 6 and 12 weeks to obtain information about discomfort, workstation setup, working posture and comfort. Nine participants (Group 1 n = 6, Group 2 n = 3) withdrew within a week of commencing forearm support either due to discomfort or difficulty in maintaining the posture. At 6 weeks, the group using forearm support generated significantly fewer reports of discomfort in the neck and back, although the difference between the groups was not statistically significant. At 12 weeks, there were fewer reports of neck, back and wrist discomfort when preintervention discomfort was compared with post intervention discomfort. These findings indicate that for the majority of users, forearm support may be preferable to the "floating" posture implicit in current guidelines for computer workstation setup.
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Ltd.