Is your reading room a pain in your neck?

2018 03 22 17 05 9106 Neck Shoulder Pain 400

Is the radiology reading room a fundamentally unhealthy environment for radiologists? A study published March 20 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology suggests that the rise of PACS and the digital reading room is contributing to an epidemic of work-related musculoskeletal injuries among radiologists.

A multicenter group analyzed responses to questions about musculoskeletal injuries sent to the leaders of radiology practices as part of the American College of Radiology Commission on Human Resources 2017 workforce survey. The researchers discovered that there was a high prevalence of neck and back pain, as well as repetitive stress injuries (JACR, March 20, 2018).

The trend arose from the conversion of radiology from film to PACS and digital workstations, wrote the group, which was led by Dr. Jay Parikh from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

"The current digital environment and PACS workstations have almost certainly contributed to the development of musculoskeletal injuries in radiologists," the researchers wrote. "Long hours sitting at workstations, use of nonergonomic chairs, failure to take breaks from sitting, and sitting in awkward positions all contribute to low back pain, neck pain, and repetitive stress injuries to radiologists."

The workforce survey was sent to 1,811 leaders of radiology practices; 477 responded, for a response rate of 26%. The respondents' practices had a total of 11,056 radiologists, representing 33% of all practicing radiologists in the U.S.

The survey asked respondents to list the number of members of their practice who had come to them reporting neck pain, back pain, or a repetitive stress injury.

Musculoskeletal injuries reported by radiologists
  Neck pain Back pain Repetitive stress injury
Percentage of radiologists who reported MSK pain to practice leaders 25% 32% 16%

In some cases, the rates of injury were higher than what's generally been reported in the population as a whole, Parikh and colleagues wrote. For example, estimates of low back pain in the U.S. range from 5% to 22%. However, a previous survey of neck pain in the U.S. found an estimated prevalence of 30% to 50%.

Estimates of repetitive stress injury are all over the map, ranging from 7% in a Canadian study of the general population to 60% in a study of breast imagers conducted by the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI). The researchers noted that there were major differences in study design and the population surveyed between their research and the SBI study.

The group recommended that more attention be paid to musculoskeletal injuries among radiologists. In particular, they recommended improving work environments, such as by applying ergonomic solutions to the work area and evaluating reading and interventional procedure rooms.

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