Study design: Cross-sectional study.
Objective: To explore aspects of cervical musculoskeletal function in female office workers with neck pain.
Summary of background data: Evidence of physical characteristics that differentiate computer workers with and without neck pain is sparse. Patients with chronic neck pain demonstrate reduced motion and altered patterns of muscle control in the cervical flexor and upper trapezius (UT) muscles during specific tasks. Understanding cervical musculoskeletal function in office workers will better direct intervention and prevention strategies.
Methods: Measures included neck range of motion; superficial neck flexor muscle activity during a clinical test, the craniocervical flexion test; and a motor task, a unilateral muscle coordination task, to assess the activity of both the anterior and posterior neck muscles. Office workers with and without neck pain were formed into 3 groups based on their scores on the Neck Disability Index. Nonworking women without neck pain formed the control group. Surface electromyographic activity was recorded bilaterally from the sternocleidomastoid, anterior scalene (AS), cervical extensor (CE) and UT muscles.
Results: Workers with neck pain had reduced rotation range and increased activity of the superficial cervical flexors during the craniocervical flexion test. During the coordination task, workers with pain demonstrated greater activity in the CE muscles bilaterally. On completion of the task, the UT and dominant CE and AS muscles demonstrated an inability to relax in workers with pain. In general, there was a linear relationship between the workers' self-reported levels of pain and disability and the movement and muscle changes.
Conclusion: These results are consistent with those found in other cervical musculoskeletal disorders and may represent an altered muscle recruitment strategy to stabilize the head and neck. An exercise program including motor reeducation may assist in the management of neck pain in office workers.