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Arm Pads Give Relief to Computer Pain

Study Shows Forearm Support Can Ease Pain From Working at a Computer
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 21, 2006 -- Resting your forearms on supportive arm boards or pads may take some of the aches and pains out of working at a computer every day.

A new study suggests that providing forearm support can significantly reduce neck and shoulder pain as well as hand, wrist, and forearm pain associated with computer use.

"Based on these outcomes, employers should consider providing employees who use computers with appropriate forearm support," says researcher David Rempel, MD, MPH, director of the ergonomics program at San Francisco General Hospital, in a news release.

Arm Boards and Ergonomics Training

In the study, researchers looked at the effects of providing forearm support (in the form of a padded device known as an arm board that attaches to the front of the work surface) and ergonomics training on upper body pain. The participants in the study were 182 operators at a call center who worked at computers most of the day.

The operators were randomly divided into groups that received ergonomics training only, ergonomics training plus an arm board, ergonomics training and use of a trackball (instead of computer mouse), or ergonomics training with forearm support and a trackball. A trackball is a device that uses a rotating ball to position a cursor on a computer screen.

The participants provided weekly pain scores. Researchers monitored them for any medical problems that developed in the upper extremities (hand, wrist, arm), neck, or shoulder areas. Most of the participants used the mouse or trackball with their right hand (98%).

One year later, the results showed that operators who used the arm board had a 50% lower rate of neck and shoulder disorders than those in the control group. Use of the arm board was also associated with less pain in that area and the right upper extremity. Interestingly, the use of a trackball reduced pain and problems in only the left upper extremity.

Pain Relief Tips

The results, which appear in the British Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, showed that providing forearm support along with ergonomics training had the greatest effect in protecting against computer-related muscle pain.

Researchers estimate that the cost of providing arm boards to employees would be returned to employers in the form of increased productivity within about 11 months of purchase.

"Based on this study, it is in the best interest of the company and the employees to provide forearm supports and training," says Rempel.

Researchers say other tips to reduce the risk of computer-related pain include:

  • Taking scheduled breaks
  • Maintaining an erect posture
  • Adjusting chair height so thighs are parallel to the floor
  • Adjusting arm support and work surface height so the forearms are parallel to the floor
  • Adjusting the mouse and keyboard location to minimize reaching
  • Adjusting monitor height so that the center of the monitor is about 15 degrees below the visual horizon

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