Reducing Neck Pain in Office Workers
Our Physio Chen presented one of her PhD papers at the biennial Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) conference held at the Gold Coast this year. Her research is based on neck pain in office workers which is highly topical in Australia. A recent study estimated that 49% of office workers suffer a new episode of neck pain each year. Research has also shown that 60 to 80% of workers experience a recurrence of neck pain within 1 year of the initial episode.
Due to increased awareness and responsibility of employers or companies towards employee health, many have started encouraging workers to be more active by organising lunch-time exercise groups, competitions and subsidising gym fees. Despite there being many studies on workplace-based activities targeted at neck pain in office workers, there has been no consolidated evidence on their effectiveness. Hence, a significant part of Chen's PhD has been aimed at summarising the evidence available.
Twenty-seven high quality trials were studied in Chen's review. There is strong evidence that at least 10 weeks of neck and shoulder strengthening exercise was effective in reducing neck pain in office workers. The greatest benefits were found if the workers attended more than 60 per cent of the exercise sessions. The effect of general fitness exercise (i.e. aerobic exercises involving larger muscle groups and of longer duration) was also studied. Strong evidence was also found for general fitness exercise but the effect was smaller than neck and shoulder specific strengthening exercises in reducing neck pain. Additionally, the review also found moderate evidence that stretching exercises alone were ineffective in reducing neck pain.
In Chen's own local research, nearly 750 workers have been put through a 12 week program over the last two years, with another year of data collection to go. The exercise group participate in a 20 minute session, three times a week and their results are being compared to workers who spend one hour a week in a non-active general health promotion and education group.
Chen hopes to use her research to promote the benefits of exercise in office workplaces as well as in the general population to reduce and prevent neck pain. In addition, it is important that her research emphasizes the significance of consistency (at least 10 weeks) and compliance to exercise in order to achieve the desired pain relieving outcome.