Patient Positioning During In-Office Otologic Procedures Impacts Physician Ergonomics

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The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of patient positioning on physician ergonomics during in-office otologic procedures. A previous simulation study suggested that placing patients supine during in-office otology procedures is ergonomically favorable. This study aims to substantiate these findings during the routine care of patients in an otolaryngology practice setting.

Study Design:

Observational study.


Outpatient otology clinic within tertiary care facility.

Study Subjects:

Two neurotology attending physicians.


Physicians performed cerumen removal procedures in the office with patients either in the seated position (n = 24) or supine position (n = 24).

Main Outcome Measures:

The rapid upper limb assessment (RULA), a validated instrument that measures body positioning with a focus on the upper arm, was used to measure ergonomic positioning. RULA scores correlate occupational body positioning with a numeric representation of musculoskeletal injury risk ranging from 1 (minimal risk) to 7 (very high risk).


Overall median RULA scores were 4.5 (medium risk) with patients in the seated position, and 2 (low risk) with patients in the supine position (p < 0.0001). Similarly, RULA scores were significantly lower with patients in the supine position when each physician was evaluated independently (p < 0.0001, for both).


Placing patients in a supine position for cerumen removal results in more favorable ergonomic positioning for the physician, thus reducing risk for work-related musculoskeletal disorders. This suggests that physicians should consider placing patients in the supine position for in-office otologic procedures. Further study is needed to investigate optimal ergonomic positioning for other common otolaryngology procedures.

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