Objectives: The aim of this study was to assess the effect of an ergonomic intervention on pain and sickness absence caused by upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders.
Methods: In this randomized controlled study, subjects aged 18-60 years (N=177) seeking medical advice due to upper-extremity symptoms were included if their symptoms, or the exacerbation of symptoms, had started <30 days prior to the medical consultation and immediate sick leave was not required. Workplace ergonomic improvements were made in the intervention group. Data on symptoms and sickness absences were gathered during one-year follow-up.
Results: Pain intensity, pain interference with work, leisure time, or sleep did not differ between the intervention and control group during the one-year follow-up. During the first three months of follow-up, the percentage of employees with sickness absence due to upper-extremity or other musculoskeletal disorders did not differ between the intervention (N=89) and control (N=84) group, but the total number of sickness absence days in the intervention group was about half of that in the control group (mean 6.2 versus 9.8 days for upper-extremity disorder and 6.0 versus 11.5 days for upper-extremity and other musculoskeletal disorders combined). During 4-12 months of follow-up, the percentage of employees with sickness absence due to upper-extremity disorder (10.1% versus 16.7%, P=0.20) or upper-extremity and other musculoskeletal disorders combined (20.2% versus 32.1%, P=0.07) was lower in the intervention than the control group.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that an early ergonomic intervention reduces sickness absence due to upper-extremity or other musculoskeletal disorders.