Muscle Activation Patterns and Chronic Neck-Shoulder Pain in Computer Work
Kelson, Denean M.
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Prolonged computer work is associated with high rates of neck and shoulder pain symptoms, and as computers have become increasingly more common, it is becoming critical that we develop sustainable interventions targeting this issue. Static muscle contractions for prolonged periods often occur in the neck/shoulder during computer work and may underlie muscle pain development in spite of rather low relative muscle load levels. Causal mechanisms may include a stereotypical recruitment of low threshold motor units (activating type I muscle fibers), characterized by a lack of temporal as well as spatial variation in motor unit recruitment. Based on this theory, although studies have postulated that individuals with chronic neck-shoulder pain will show less variation in muscle activity compared to healthy individuals when engaged in repetitive/monotonous work, this has seldom been verified in empirical studies of actual computer work. Studies have rarely addressed temporal patterns in muscle activation, even though there is a consensus that temporal activation patterns are important for understanding fatigue and maybe even risks of subsequent musculoskeletal disorders. This study applied exposure variation analysis (EVA) to study differences in temporal patterns of trapezius muscle activity as individuals with and without pain performed computer work. The aims of this study were to: Assess the reliability of EVA to measure variation in trapezius muscle activity in healthy individuals during the performance of computer work; Determine the extent to which healthy subjects differ from those with chronic pain in trapezius muscle activity patterns during computer work, measured using EVA. Thirteen touch-typing, right-handed participants were recruited in this study (8 healthy; 5 chronic pain). The participants were asked to complete three 10-minute computer tasks (TYPE, CLICK and FORM) in two pacing conditions (self-paced, control-paced), with the healthy group completing two sessions and the pain group completing one. Activation of the upper trapezius muscle was measured using surface electromyography (EMG). EMG data were organized into 5x5 EVA matrices with five amplitude classes (0-6.67, 6.67-20, 20-46.67, 46.67-100, >100% Reference Voluntary Exertion) and five duration classes (0- 1, 1-3, 3-7, 7-15, >15 seconds). EVA marginal distributions (along both amplitude and duration classes) for each EVA class, as well as summary measures (mean and SD) of the marginal sums along each axis were computed. Finally, “resultant” mean and SD across all EVA cells were computed. The reliability in EVA indices was estimated using intra-class correlation coefficients (ICC), coefficient of variation (CV) and standard error of measurement (SEM), computed from repeated measurements of healthy individuals (aim 1), and EVA indices were compared between groups (aim 2). Reliability of EVA amplitude marginal sums ranged from moderate to high in the self-paced condition and low to moderate in the control-paced condition. The duration marginal sums were moderate in the self-paced condition and moderate to high in the control-paced condition. The summary measures (means and SDs) were moderate to high in both the self-paced and control-paced condition. Group comparisons revealed that individuals with chronic pain spent longer durations of work time in higher EVA duration categories, exhibited larger means along the amplitude, duration and in the resultant, and higher EVA SD in the amplitude and duration axes as compared to the healthy group. To our knowledge, this is the first study to report on the reliability of EVA applied specifically to computer work. Furthermore, EVA was used to assess differences in muscle activation patterns as individuals with and without chronic pain engaged in computer work. Individuals in the pain group seemed to exhibit prolonged sustained activation of the trapezius muscle to a significantly greater extent than controls, even though they did not experience pain during the performance of the computer tasks (as obtained through self-reports). Thus, these altered muscle recruitment patterns observed in the pain subjects, even in the absence of task-based pain/discomfort, are suggestive of chronic motor control changes occurring in adaptation to pain, and may have implications for the etiology of neck and upper-limb musculoskeletal disorders.
General Audience Abstract
This study aims to assess the reliability of exposure variation analysis (EVA) to measure variation in trapezius muscle activity in healthy individuals during the performance of computer work, and to determine the extent to which healthy subjects differ from those with chronic pain in trapezius muscle activity patterns during computer work, measured using EVA. Muscle activation was recorded for eight healthy individual and five suffering from chronic neck-shoulder pain. The data were then categorized into amplitude and continuous time categories, and summary measures of resulting distributions were calculated. These measures were used to assess the reliability of participant responses to computer work of healthy individuals, as well as quantify differences between those with and without chronic pain. We found that individuals with pain activated their neck-shoulder muscles for longer continuous durations than healthy individuals, thus showing an inability to relax their muscles when performing work.
- Masters Theses