Comfortable computer desk posture after spinal cord injury

For many individuals, computers are a critical way to engage in social communication and job-related activities. Current research estimates that most sedentary employees work at a computer for at least seven hours per day, and as a result, those who do not maintain optimal neck and back posture are prone to experience pain and other health concerns. Computer-related pain can be even more problematic for individuals who have experienced a spinal cord injury (SCI), who may not be able to achieve ergonomic positions as a result of their condition. To promote healthy and productive employment among individuals with SCI, there is a need to identify optimally comfortable desk positions for people with musculoskeletal injuries.

A recent Korean study investigated the relationship between computer desk positioning and comfort in individuals with SCI. Researchers were interested to know if position preference varies by type of SCI, so they gathered data from participants with injuries to different areas of the spine: the C6 group had sustained injuries to the cervical spine (located closer to the neck), and the T1-T6 group had sustained injuries to the thoracic spinal cord (located near the middle of the back). Each group of participants completed a typing task on a computer that was positioned at 5 cm above the elbow, at elbow level, or 5 cm below the elbow. During the task, the researchers assessed each participant’s musculoskeletal health using electromyography, a technique that detects nerve and muscular abnormalities by measuring electrical activity in the muscles. After the typing task, the participants completed a questionnaire about their physical comfort level at each of the three desk positions. The results of this questionnaire indicated that patients with C6 injuries were more comfortable when the desk was slightly above elbow level, whereas patients with T1-T6 injuries were more comfortable when the desk was slightly below elbow level. However, electromyography did not demonstrate significant differences in the participants’ muscle function.

The ability to return to work and maintain stable, productive employment is a critical indicator of recovery from SCI. Although extensive computer use in the modern workplace can pose challenges for people with SCI, there are a variety of ergonomic positions that individuals can use to increase their comfort and productivity while working at a computer. People who have sustained SCI are encouraged to consult with a clinician about optimally comfortable work desk positioning.

Kang B, Her J, Lee J, et al. Effects of the computer desk level on the musculoskeletal discomfort of neck and upper extremities and EMG activities in patients with spinal cord injuries. Occupational Therapy International. (February 2019).

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