April 28, 2006

Forearm support may spare desk workers some pain

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Equipping office desks with a
simple forearm support may help prevent the pain that can come
with long days at a computer, new research suggests.

In a year-long study of 182 workers at a call center,
researchers found that those who received forearm supports for
their desks were less likely to suffer pain in the neck,
shoulders, arm, wrist or hand.

They were also less likely to be diagnosed with a
musculoskeletal injury in the neck or shoulders, according to
findings published in the British Journal of Occupational and
Environmental Medicine.

The forearm support used in the study was a padded board
that attached to the front edge of workers' desks. The support
is placed right under the "meaty part" of the forearm,
positioning computer users' arms in a way that releases tension
in the shoulder muscles, Dr. David Rempel, the lead study
author, told Reuters Health.

Based on these findings, employers should consider
providing forearm supports to workers who spend substantial
time in front of a computer, according to Rempel, a professor
of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

The results were less positive, though, for a device called
the trackball - a large ball installed next to the computer
keyboard that takes the place of the mouse. While it did ease
some workers' discomfort, others found it hard to use, Rempel

The study included employees at a large insurer's call
center, all of whom spent their workday at a computer. Some
workers received a forearm support for their desks, while
others received a trackball.

All employees were also given ergonomics training so they
could learn how to make their entire workstation more

Over the next year, Rempel's team found, workers who used a
forearm support were half as likely as those who received only
ergonomics training to be diagnosed with a neck or shoulder
injury. They also reported less pain in the neck, shoulders and
right arm.

The cost of forearm supports -- $75 to $100 each - is not
negligible, Rempel said. But in a cost analysis, he and his
colleagues found that the supports could be a worthwhile
investment, considering the potential savings in medical and
workers' compensation expenses.

"They would pay for themselves in about 10 months," Rempel

However, forearm supports alone are not sufficient,
according to the researchers. Rempel said all employees should
receive proper safety and ergonomics training to reduce their
chances of on-the-job injuries.

SOURCE: British Journal of Occupational and Environmental
Medicine, April 18, 2006.