The Impact of Cervical Musculoskeletal Disorders on UK Consultant Plastic Surgeons: Can We Reduce Morbidity With Applied Ergonomics?

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Abstract

Background

Based on anecdotal and observational evidence, we hypothesized that the prevalence of cervical musculoskeletal disorder (C-MSD) would be high among plastic surgeons. A questionnaire review was undertaken to test this hypothesis. Ergonomic assessment was undertaken to assess causal factors of C-MSD.

Method

An anonymous questionnaire recording demographics, physical symptoms and behavioral responses to C-MSD was distributed to UK Plastic Surgery consultants. The postural impact of wearing loupes was assessed using motion capture techniques and recording cervical muscular activity.

Results

The questionnaire response rate was 81%. The prevalence of cervical spine morbidity was recorded as 32%. Employment implications included 28% of the cohort requiring sick leave. The professional impact was 7% permanently modifying their practice. There were 2 factors significant for C-MSD, the surgeons' age and the duration in hours of wearing loupes per week. Ergonomic assessment of surgeons operating in loupes demonstrated: 1. increased forward and lateral cervical flexion; 2. increased cervical muscular activity to maintain the protracted “head forward” posture; and 3. prolonged static posturing to maintain head position for visual focus. Table height adjustment and variation of loupe working distance can reduce neck flexion.

Conclusions

Cervical morbidity is a prevalent problem among plastic surgeons. Long procedures, static postures and neck flexion result in the “head forward” posture. This posture exaggerates when operating with loupe magnification. Early-middle-aged consultants are more prone to cervical morbidity hence afflicted when at the top of their game. The work force is diminished for a potentially avoidable morbidity. Rather than accept this morbidity, co-operation between plastic surgeons and ergonomist may help to reduce injury.

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