Skin temperature in the dorsal hand of office workers and severity of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders

  • Judith E. GoldEmail author
  • Martin Cherniack
  • Alexandra Hanlon
  • Jack T. Dennerlein
  • Jonathan Dropkin
Original Article



This study aimed to examine the suitability of using mean dorsal (hand) skin temperature (MDT) before and after a short typing task as an indicator of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorder (UEMSD) severity. In addition, MDT reproducibility in controls was assessed for a pre-typing and three post-typing time periods over three trials.


Asymptomatic office workers (n = 10) and office workers with distal UEMSD symptoms (n = 35) typed for 9 min at three ambient temperatures (18, 22, and 26°C). Pre- and post-trial MDT was measured by infrared thermography. UEMSD severity was defined anamnestically by symptoms and by a physical examination and symptom-derived case definition.


Good to excellent reproducibility (intra-class correlation coefficients = 0.46–0.85) for MDT was found in controls at 22°C. At 18 and 22°C, pre-typing MDT differed between controls and cases by number of symptom sites marked on a hand-arm diagram (ANOVA, P ≤ 0.05), and by number of UEMSD case definitions met (ANOVA, P ≤ 0.05). Post hoc analyses showed colder temperatures in the most severely affected cases in comparison with controls. No post-typing skin temperature differentiation by severity was found.


Reduced dorsal hand skin temperature after acclimating to an ambient temperature of 18–22°C in those with more severe UEMSDs may reflect an underlying dysfunctional sympathetic nervous system. Further testing in epidemiological cohorts would be desirable to evaluate the generalizability and feasibility of this physiological measurement for UEMSD severity in the workplace.


Sympathetic nervous system Thermography Computer user Cutaneous perfusion Reproducibility 



This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, K-01 OH008134. Early support was provided by the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The authors would like to thank Joe Glutting for help with reproducibility analyses, and Ann Barr for examination of subjects in Philadelphia. Francyse Wentink, Laura Gold, Alex Neusner, Takafumi Asaki, and Donald Peterson provided assistance in data collection. Johnson Britto and Venk Kandadai contributed to data analysis.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Judith E. Gold
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin Cherniack
    • 2
  • Alexandra Hanlon
    • 1
  • Jack T. Dennerlein
    • 3
  • Jonathan Dropkin
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Public HealthTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Division of Occupational and Environmental MedicineUniversity of Connecticut Health CenterFarmingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Environmental HealthHarvard UniversityBostonUSA
  4. 4.Program to Prevent and Treat Work-Related Musculoskeletal DisordersMount Sinai Hospital, Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental MedicineNew YorkUSA

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