Workers in Bristol who suffer from neck pain are set to benefit from a new investigation by a team of researchers in the city.
Dr Patricia Dolan and Dr Michael Adams from the University of Bristol's Department of Anatomy have been awarded two years of funding of almost £110,000 by the Arthritis Research Campaign to find out if people can damage their necks performing everyday tasks.
As a result of their research, new guidelines could be developed, setting out more effective ways of reducing the risk of work-related neck pain and injuries.
"Neck pain is an increasing cause of disability and work loss in the UK, and in most cases it has no obvious cause although it frequently occurs in people who sit for long periods over a computer, drive long distances, or perform overhead work," explained Dr Dolan, a Senior Lecturer in Musculoskeletal Science and Arthritis Research Campaign Postdoctoral Fellow.
A common feature of these activities is that the head is held in a fairly fixed position by sustained contraction of the neck muscles. Muscle contraction compresses the cervical spine, but we don’t know how big a part it plays in causing pain or injury in different postures."
Dr Dolan and physicist Dr Adams plan to find out more about the role of muscle contraction on compression of the spine by developing a new electromyography (EMG) technique to measure the forces generated by neck muscles by a range of activities and movements.
They plan to recruit volunteers from the University to undergo a series of repetitious movements similar to those used by decorators, office workers and supermarket staff.
Although these activities are unlikely to cause injury such as a ligament strain, they can cause microscopic damage to the muscles, bone ligaments and discs. Such micro-damage would normally be repaired by the body's natural repair process, but if the strain is too great, the repair processes may be inadequate and the tissue may start to degenerate.
In this study, the team will measure the bending and compressive forces applied to the cervical spine during different activities, and compare them to the forces required to cause acute injury.