Use of keyboards and symptoms in the neck and arm: evidence from a national survey.
Palmer KT., Cooper C., Walker-Bone K., Syddall H., Coggon D.
The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between upper limb symptoms and keyboard use in a population survey. A questionnaire was mailed to 21,201 subjects aged 16-64 years, selected at random from the registers of 34 British general practices. Information was collected on occupation and on regular use of keyboards (for >4 h in an average working day), pain in the upper limbs and neck, numbness or tingling in the upper limbs, headaches, and feelings of tiredness or stress. Associations were explored by logistic regression, with the resultant odds ratios converted into prevalence ratios (PRs). Among 12,262 respondents, 4899 held non-manual occupations. These included 1871 regular users of keyboards (e.g. computer operators, data processors, clerks, administrators, secretaries and typists). Pain in the neck or upper limbs and sensory symptoms were common in the non-manual workers overall (with 1 week period prevalences of 30 and 15%, respectively), and were associated with older age, smoking, headaches and tiredness or stress. After adjustment for these factors, regular keyboard use was significantly associated with pain in the past week in the shoulders (PRs 1.2-1.4) and the wrists or hands (PR 1.4), but not with elbow pain or sensory symptoms over the same period, or with neck or upper limb pain that prevented normal activities in the past year. Disabling symptoms were somewhat less prevalent among symptomatic keyboard users than among other symptomatic workers. We conclude that use of keyboards was associated with discomfort at the shoulder and wrist or hand, but risk estimates were lower than generally reported in workplace surveys. Previous estimates of risk in the occupational setting may have been biased by shared expectations, concerns, or other aspects of illness behaviour.