A comparison of symptomatic and asymptomatic office workers performing monotonous keyboard work--1: neck and shoulder muscle recruitment patterns

Man Ther. 2005 Nov;10(4):270-80. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2005.01.004. Epub 2005 Jul 5.


Work-related neck and upper limb disorders (WRNULD) are common problems among office workers who use computers intensively and maintain prolonged static postures. These disorders have often been attributed to result from sustained muscle activity in the neck-shoulder musculature. The present study examined whether symptomatic subjects exhibited the same muscle activity patterns as asymptomatic controls when they performed a prolonged computer task under the same conditions. Surface electromyography (EMG) of four major neck-shoulder muscles were compared between a Case Group (n=23) and a Control Group (n=20) of female office workers. The Case Group had higher activity in the right upper trapezius (UT) while the Control Group had more symmetrical muscle activity between left and right UT. The Case subjects could also be differentiated into "High Discomfort" and "Low Discomfort" sub-groups based on their discomfort scores. The High Discomfort Group had significantly higher right UT activity compared to the Low Discomfort and Control Groups. Results suggested that symptomatic individuals had altered muscle recruitment patterns that persisted throughout the sustained occupational task, while discomfort increased with time-at-task. These findings indicate that altered muscle recruitment patterns observed in the symptomatic subjects preceded the onset of task discomfort, and this finding may have important implications for the etiology of WRNULD.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / etiology
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / etiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neck Muscles / physiopathology
  • Neck Pain / etiology*
  • Neck Pain / physiopathology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / physiopathology
  • Posture*
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological / physiology
  • Shoulder Pain / etiology*
  • Shoulder Pain / physiopathology
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Weight-Bearing
  • Word Processing
  • Workload