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  • 6/19/2007

Computer time ups aches and pains for college kids


The more time college students spend on the computer on a particular day, the more likely they are to suffer from musculoskeletal problems during that 24-hour period, a new study shows.

However, because of the small size of the study -- just 27 students participated -- it was not possible to determine whether particular patterns of usage or postures made musculoskeletal problems more likely.

Musculoskeletal symptoms of the upper parts of the body are common among college and university students, especially female undergrads, college seniors, and engineering grad students, Dr. Jack Tigh Dennerlein of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and colleagues report in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Given that heavy computer use is a major risk factor for such symptoms, Dennerlein and his team measured undergraduate students' computer time with usage-monitoring software to determine if daily time spent on a computer was related to musculoskeletal symptoms experienced on a particular day.

During the study, which was conducted during three one-week periods during the spring semester, 96% of the students reported some type of musculoskeletal problem at least once. About half the time, pain involved the neck, while the lower back, upper back and shoulders were the next most common pain sites.

Students who averaged three or more hours on the computer each day were 50% more likely to have musculoskeletal symptoms, the researchers found. Those with the highest daily computer use time were nearly twice as likely to have these problems as those with the lowest computer time, although this relationship wasn't significant from a statistical standpoint.

The observed high musculoskeletal symptom prevalence and the potential relationship between computer usage and symptoms suggested that further research is needed to protect the student population the researchers conclude, calling for longer-term, larger studies that also examine students' posture at the computer and other potential musculoskeletal pain risk factors.


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