Computer users' risk factors for developing shoulder, elbow and back symptoms

Scand J Work Environ Health. 2004 Oct;30(5):390-8. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.827.


Objectives: This prospective study concentrated on determining factors of computer work that predict musculoskeletal symptoms in the shoulder, elbow, and low-back regions.

Methods: A questionnaire on ergonomics, work pauses, work techniques, and psychosocial and work factors was delivered to 5033 office workers at baseline in early 1999 (response rate 69%) and to 3361 respondents at the time of the follow-up in late 2000 (response rate 77%). An increased frequency or intensity of symptoms was the outcome variable, including only nonsymptomatic respondents from the baseline questionnaire (symptom frequency below 8 days within the last 12 months or intensity score below 4 within the last 3 months).

Results: In the follow-up, 10%, 18%, and 23% had symptoms more often in the elbow, shoulder, and low back, respectively, and 14%, 20%, and 22% had more intense symptoms. Women were more likely to be afflicted than men in all regions. In the full-fit multivariate logistic regression analysis, little influence on the timing of a rest pause and being disturbed by glare or reflection were significant predictors of shoulder symptoms, screen below eye height was a significant predictor for elbow symptoms, and previous symptoms was a significant predictor for symptoms in all regions. Computer worktime and psychosocial dimensions were not significant predictors.

Conclusions: Influence on work pauses, reduction of glare or reflection, and screen height are important factors in the design of future computer workstations. Since previous symptoms was a significant predictor of recurrent symptoms in all three regions under study, it can be concluded that musculoskeletal symptoms are persistent.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Back Pain / etiology
  • Computers*
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Elbow
  • Ergonomics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / etiology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Posture
  • Prospective Studies
  • Shoulder Pain / etiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires