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Is Your Job a Pain in the Neck? Linking Psychosocial Work Factors and Neck Pain

Posted on: 11/30/1999
As much as 40 percent of the population experiences neck pain in a given year. There are a number of risk factors for neck pain. Among them, the type of work you do and the "personality" of your workplace may play a big part.

How might work lead to neck pain? Things like deadlines, dealing with difficult coworkers, and trying to move up the corporate ladder can cause stress. If the stress exceeds your coping skills or the support provided by the workplace, you may wind up with added muscle tension, and possibly a pain in your neck.

These authors wanted to see which "psychosocial" characteristics of the workplace were linked to neck pain. In particular, they wondered whether job demands, authority to make decisions, freedom to use one's skills, support of supervisors and coworkers, and job security were risk factors for neck pain.

Workers from 34 industrial and service companies in the Netherlands filled out questionnaires once a year for three years. Nine hundred seventy-seven workers participated. Three-quarters of them were men. Their average age was 35. They had been at their jobs for about 10 years and worked roughly 38 hours a week. None of them had experienced neck pain the year before the study began.

One hundred forty-one workers (14 percent) had neck pain at least once during the three years. The authors felt this number was relatively low. Because workers who'd had neck pain in the previous year were excluded from the study, this sample of workers may not have been very prone to neck pain.

Participants who worked under a lot of time pressure (seven percent) were more likely to have neck pain. So were those who didn't feel supported by their coworkers (10 percent). Workers with little decision-making authority were somewhat more likely to have neck pain, but this relationship was felt to be slight.

None of the other psychosocial factors was related to neck pain. Notably, physical factors such as sitting or bending your neck on the job were just as likely as the psychosocial factors to lead to neck pain.

The authors think that reducing deadlines and time pressure may help prevent some cases of neck pain. More support among coworkers may also be beneficial. Finally, workers given more opportunities to make decisions about their own work may be less susceptible to neck problems.

References:
Geertje A. M. AriŽns, PhD, et al. High Quantitative Job Demands and Low Coworker Support As Risk Factors for Neck Pain. In Spine. September 1, 2001. Vol. 26. No. 17. Pp. 1896-1903.

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