Occupational Health & Safety

Workplace Initiative Reduces Headaches, Neck and Shoulder Pain

Office staff who took part in an eight-month workplace initiative reported that headaches and neck and shoulder pain fell by more than 40 percent and their use of painkillers halved, according to research published in the May issue of Cephalalgia.

They also reported that pain levels were less severe at the end of the study than at the start.

Italian researchers compared 169 staff in Turin's registry and tax offices with 175 colleagues who hadn't taken part in the educational and physical program. Using daily diaries completed by both groups, they compared the baseline results for months one and two of the study with months seven and eight to see if there had been any changes. The study group started following the program in month three.

They found that:

  • At the start of the study, staff in both groups reported an average of six headache days a month and seven and a half days when they were affected by neck and shoulder pain. They needed to take analgesic drugs two days a month.
  • By the end of the trial, staff in the study group reported that they suffered from 41 percent fewer headaches, with staff in the control group reporting a negligible rise of 0.02 per cent.
  • Study group staff also reported 43 percent less neck and shoulder pain, compared with staff in the control group who reported a five per cent reduction.
  • When it came to medication, the study group reported a 51 percent reduction in analgesic use and the control group reported a fall of 15 percent.
  • Subjects with anxiety or depression showed a better than average response when compared with the rest of the study group.

The researchers were also keen to see whether the workplace initiative also reduced the "global burden" of the employee's headaches and neck and shoulder pain, which is calculated by multiplying intensity by frequency. They found that:

  • Employees in the study group reported a 41 percent reduction in headache burden, compared with a two percent fall for the control group.
  • The burden of neck and shoulder pain was 54 percent lower in the study group by the end of the study, with the control group recording a reduction of four percent.

"Staff in the study group were asked to carry out a series of relaxation and posture exercises every two to three hours and provided with red labels to place around their work area to remind them to avoid excessive contraction of their head and shoulder muscles" saidd lead author Professor Franco Mongini from the Headache and Facial Pain Unit at the University of Turin, Italy. "The exercises also included two daily periods of ten to 15 minutes when staff relaxed quietly at home in a comfortable armchair with warming pads placed on their cheeks and shoulders."

The program was designed by the lead author and was explained using a short film, followed by a practical demonstration and training.

Employees also were provided with information sheets on the exercises and the clinician leading the study revisited the workplace in months four and six to remind staff of the procedures.

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