Original Article

European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 96, Issue 2, pp 110-121

First online:

Neuromuscular assessment in elderly workers with and without work related shoulder/neck trouble: the NEW-study design and physiological findings

  • G. SjøgaardAffiliated withNational Institute of Occupational Health Email author 
  • , K. SøgaardAffiliated withNational Institute of Occupational Health
  • , H. J. HermensAffiliated withRRD
  • , L. SandsjöAffiliated withNational Institute for Working Life
  • , T. LäubliAffiliated withETH
  • , S. ThornAffiliated withNational Institute for Working Life
  • , M. M. R. Vollenbroek-HuttenAffiliated withRRD
  • , L. SellAffiliated withNational Institute of Occupational Health
  • , H. ChristensenAffiliated withNational Institute of Occupational Health
    • , A. KlipsteinAffiliated withETH
    • , R. KadeforsAffiliated withNational Institute for Working Life
    • , R. MerlettiAffiliated withLISiN, Politecnico di Torino

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Musculoskeletal disorders in the neck and shoulder area are a major occupational concern in the European countries especially among elderly females. The aim was to assess these disorders based on quantitative EMG indicators and functional tests. 252 female computer users (45–68 years) were recruited from four European countries in two contrast groups: (1) 88 neck/shoulder (NS) cases reporting trouble in the neck and/or shoulder region for more than 30 days during the last year, and (2) 164 NS-controls reporting such trouble for no more than 7 days. Questionnaires, functional/clinical tests, and physiological recordings were performed in workplace related field studies. The results showed no differences in anthropometrics but NS-cases reported more strained head positions and more eye problems than controls. The psychosocial working factors were similar, although, NS-controls had slightly better scores on working conditions, general health, and vitality compared to cases. The NS-cases had lower maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) during shoulder elevation (mean (SD) 310 (122) N) compared to the controls (364 (122) N). During 30% MVC electromyography (EMGrms) in the trapezius muscle was lower in NS-cases (194 (105) μV) than in controls (256 (169) μV), while no differences were found regarding endurance time. Estimated conduction velocity was not different between NS-cases and -controls. Four functional computer tests were performed equally well by NS-cases and -controls, and the corresponding EMG variables also did not differ. A major finding in this large-scale epidemiological study is the significantly lower MVC in NS-cases compared with NS-controls together with lower EMGrms value at 30% MVC, while computer tasks were performed at similar relative muscle activation. The study was unable to reveal quantitative EMG indicators and functional tests that could objectively assess disorders in NS-cases.


Maximal voluntary contraction Computer users Electromyography Psychosocial factors Functional tests