Upper Extremity Pain and Computer Use Among Engineering Graduate Students: A Replication Study

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BackgroundRecent literature identified upper extremity musculoskeletal symptoms at a prevalence of>40% in college populations. The study objectives were to determine weekly computer use and the prevalence of upper extremity musculoskeletal symptoms in a graduate student population, and make comparisons with previous graduate and undergraduate cohorts.MethodsOne hundred sixty-six graduate students completed a survey on computing and musculoskeletal health. Associations between individual factors and symptom status, functional limitations, academic impact, medication use, and health services utilization were determined. Logistic regression analyses evaluated the association between symptom status and computing. Cross-study comparisons were made.ResultsMore symptomatic participants experienced functional limitations than asymptomatic participants (74% vs. 32%, P<0.001) and reported medication use for computing pain (34% vs. 10%, P<0.01). More participants who experienced symptoms within an hourof computing used health services compared to those who experienced symptoms after an hour of computer use (60% vs. 12%, P<0.01). Years of computer use (OR=1.59, 95% CI 1.05-2.40) and number of years in school where weekly computer use was more than 10 hr (OR=1.56, 95% CI 1.04-2.35) were associated with pain within an hour of computing. Cross-study comparisons found college populations more similar than different.ConclusionThe overall findings reinforced previous literature documenting the prevalence of upper extremity musculoskeletal symptoms in college populations, suggesting an important population for participating in public health interventions designed to support healthy computing practices and identify risk factors important to evaluate in future cohort studies.

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