Computer-related musculoskeletal dysfunction among adolescent school learners in the Cape Metropolitan region

Smith, Leone (2007-03)

Thesis (MScPhysio (Physiotherapy))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.

Thesis

INTRODUCTION Computer use has been identified as a risk factor for the development of musculoskeletal dysfunction among children and adolescents internationally. Computer exposure has increased in the Western Cape since 2002, with the inception of a project to install computer laboratories in all schools in the province. As musculoskeletal dysfunction experienced during adolescence is predictive of musculoskeletal disorders in adulthood, it is essential to identify all risk and/or associative factors. METHODOLOGY A descriptive study was conducted with the aim to investigate whether the musculoskeletal dysfunction of high school learners in the Cape Metropolitan region was related to their computer use. This study was conducted in two phases. Phase 1 of the study entailed the completion of a new questionnaire, the Computer Usage Questionnaire, by grade 10-12 learners. The learner sample was divided in a computer and a non-computer group depending on their exposure to the school computer. Phase 2 of the study involved the assessment of the ergonomic design of the computer laboratories at randomly selected high schools within the Cape Metropolitan region. RESULTS A total of 1073 learners (65% girls & 35% boys), aged 14-18 years, completed the CUQ in phase 1 of the study. The results indicated that learners in the computer group had greater weekly exposure to computers than the non-computer group. The prevalence of musculoskeletal dysfunction among this learner sample was 74%. The most common body areas of dysfunction were the head, low back and neck. The female gender, playing sport and using the school computer for more than three years were associated with musculoskeletal dysfunction. Weekly computer use of more than seven hours was predictive of general musculoskeletal dysfunction, low back pain and neck pain. Twenty nine computer laboratories within 16 selected high schools were assessed by means of the Computer Workstation Design Assessment (CWDA). Out of a total score of 40, the computer laboratories obtained average scores of less than 45%, indicating compliance with less than half of the standard ergonomic requirements. The average scores for the workspace environment was less than 40%. The design of the desk, chair and computer screen had the poorest compliance to ergonomic guidelines. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION The prevalence of musculoskeletal dysfunction among this sample was higher than among other similar samples on the same study topic. The higher prevalence may be attributed to the poor ergonomic design of the computer laboratories in the Cape Metropolitan region. Learners’ reduced participation in activities such as sport and working on a computer due to their musculoskeletal dysfunction, may impact on their choice of a future career. The tendency of learners not to seek medical advice for their musculoskeletal dysfunction may predispose the development of chronic musculoskeletal disorders. Education of related parties on safe computing habits as well as advice on the ergonomic design of computer laboratories is recommended to prevent the progression of adolescent musculoskeletal dysfunction into chronic disorders in adulthood.

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