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"Occupational backache" – surface electromyography demonstrates the advantage of an ergonomic versus a standard microscope workstation

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Musculoskeletal symptoms such as low back pain, neck pain, and tension headache are reported by up to 80% of professional personnel involved in daily microscope work. Yet, in striking contrast to the high prevalence of complaints, there is a general unawareness of this issue both in those suffering, and those ordering and designing microscopes. We intend to call attention to this underestimated work-related health hazard and to demonstrate a potential means of prevention. We obtained repeated surface electromyographic (EMG) recordings from the most strained neck, upper limb, and back muscles in 12 healthy volunteers while they were operating a near-to-ergonomic prototype workstation and a conventional microscope, respectively. Mean EMG activity was reduced in all recorded muscles when operating the ergonomic workstation compared to the standard microscope. This improvement became more distinct with sustained work, and was most pronounced in those muscles displaying the highest degree of activity while using the standard microscope. We demonstrate the usefulness of surface EMG recordings to show the advantage of an ergonomically tailored and individually adjustable microscope workstation over a standard microscope. The former allows the operator to maintain a more physiological posture, and may thus prevent the development of cumulative musculoskeletal disorders during prolonged microscope-related work.

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Kofler, M., Kreczy, A. & Gschwendtner, A. "Occupational backache" – surface electromyography demonstrates the advantage of an ergonomic versus a standard microscope workstation. Eur J Appl Physiol 86, 492–497 (2002).

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