Biofeedback for the Treatment of Neck and Shoulder Pain

This study was conducted to evaluate the use of a biofeedback machine in people suffering from work-related shoulder and neck pain, as compared to active exercise and passive therapy. Participants in three different groups followed three modes of treatment. One group used a biofeedback machine during work, the second group followed a standardized daily exercise plan, and the third group was subjected to passive treatment therapies like the application of hot-packs on the painful areas. The participants belonging to the control group were given educational material with instructions on office ergonomics like maintenance of a good posture while working on a computer. At the end of six weeks, it was found that the use of a biofeedback machine during work gave the maximum relief from pain; the benefits continued for six months even after discontinuation of therapy.

Computers are increasingly being used both at work and at home. Nearly 90 percent of the people use computers at their place of work, with around 40 percent of them spending over four hours a day on a computer. Such a prolonged use of computers has increased the incidence of muscle pain, especially in the neck and shoulders. Studies indicate that these pains are caused because of increased activity of the neck and shoulder trapezius muscle, which works to keep the back and neck in a stationary position while typing on a keyboard. When people work on their computers for a long time, this muscle gets fatigued, resulting in pain. Exercising the muscles in between work may help. However, most people tend to keep the same posture while working and exercising, resulting in prolonged stress on the trapezius muscle. A biofeedback machine detects prolonged activity of the trapezius muscle and alerts the user when there is a problem. The present study assessed the effectiveness of this machine, in comparison with active exercise and other stress relieving therapies.

* In this study, 60 participants who used a computer for their work, on a daily basis, and who had complaints of shoulder and neck pain, were tested.
* The participants were divided into four groups. The first group was trained to use the biofeedback machine while the second group performed certain standard exercises regularly. The third group received passive therapy like application of hot packs on painful areas.
* The fourth group was provided with educational material, with instructions on maintenance of good posture while working on a computer.

Key Findings
* At the beginning and after the completion of the study, which was carried out for six weeks, the levels of pain and disability in the neck and shoulders were assessed for all the participants using a scoring system.
* The results thus obtained showed that there was least pain and disability in the group that used a biofeedback machine. These benefits lasted for six months after discontinuation of the machine.
* Active exercising and passive treatment also gave a favorable reduction in muscle pain.
* On analyzing the muscle activity using “electromyography”, it was found that muscle activity in the neck and shoulders in the “cervical erector spinae and upper trapezius” muscles was significantly reduced with the use of a biofeedback machine, when compared to other the modes of treatment.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors of the present study agree that a small number of participants were tested and that larger samples may be needed for conclusions that are more definite. They further admit that this study had only one biofeedback group, and further studies that include other training methods with the biofeedback machine are necessary to understand its effectiveness.

This study revealed that the use of a biofeedback machine, active exercise and passive therapy help in reduction of neck disability and pain, which result from long hours of working on a computer. However, a biofeedback machine is the best option, since it provides maximum relief when compared to other therapies. Moreover, its benefits are sustained for over six months, even after discontinuation. This study shows that more innovative methods of dealing with occupational neck and shoulder pain should be introduced. These should target the actual cause of the pain that affects the muscles, when working on a computer. Such a process of treatment is more effective than those that just provide symptomatic relief.

For More Information:
Comparing Biofeedback with Active Exercise and Passive Treatment for the Management of Work-Related Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Publication Journal:
Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, June 2011
By Chao Ma, PhD; Grace Szeto, PhD
From the Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China; Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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