Background: The prevalence and consequences of musculoskeletal pain is considerable among healthcare workers, allegedly due to high physical work demands of healthcare work. Previous investigations have shown promising results of physical exercise for relieving pain among different occupational groups, but the question remains whether such physical exercise should be performed at the workplace or conducted as home-based exercise. Performing physical exercise at the workplace together with colleagues may be more motivating for some employees and thus increase adherence. On the other hand, physical exercise performed during working hours at the workplace may be costly for the employers in terms of time spend. Thus, it seems relevant to compare the efficacy of workplace- versus home-based training on musculoskeletal pain. This study is intended to investigate the effect of workplace-based versus home-based physical exercise on musculoskeletal pain among healthcare workers.
Methods/design: This study was designed as a cluster randomized controlled trial performed at 3 hospitals in Copenhagen, Denmark. Clusters are hospital departments and hospital units. Cluster randomization was chosen to increase adherence and avoid contamination between interventions. Two hundred healthcare workers from 18 departments located at three different hospitals is allocated to 10 weeks of 1) workplace based physical exercise performed during working hours (using kettlebells, elastic bands and exercise balls) for 5 × 10 minutes per week and up to 5 group-based coaching sessions, or 2) home based physical exercise performed during leisure time (using elastic bands and body weight exercises) for 5 × 10 minutes per week. Both intervention groups will also receive ergonomic instructions on patient handling and use of lifting aides etc. Inclusion criteria are female healthcare workers working at a hospital. Average pain intensity (VAS scale 0-10) of the back, neck and shoulder (primary outcome) and physical exertion during work, social capital and work ability (secondary outcomes) is assessed at baseline and 10-week follow-up. Further, postural balance and mechanical muscle function is assessed during clinical examination at baseline and follow-up.
Discussion: This cluster randomized trial will investigate the change in self-rated average pain intensity in the back, neck and shoulder after either 10 weeks of physical exercise at the workplace or at home.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT01921764).