Low Back and Shoulder Pain and Other Physical Symptoms Increased after Abrupt Start to Telework

During emergency shutdowns in the early days of the pandemic, Japanese employees who suddenly found themselves working from home had increased rates of low back and shoulder pain and other physical symptoms, reports a study in the January Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

"[E]ven after adjustment, higher telework frequency was significantly associated with a higher prevalence of stiff shoulders, eyestrain, and low back pain among workers in Japan during the COVID-19 emergency declaration," according to the report by Masato Tezuka, BSc, of Kobe University.

The researchers analyzed responses to a web-based survey from more than 900 employees of two Japanese metal companies. More than half of respondents reported five or more days of telework per week during the emergency declaration; nearly 90 percent worked from home at least one day per week.

From a list of 15 common physical symptoms, the most frequently reported symptoms were stiff shoulders (36 percent), eyestrain (33 percent), and low back pain (28 percent). After adjustment for other factors, all three common symptoms were related to the frequency of telework.

Employees working from home at least five days per week were about three times more likely to report stiff shoulders, five times more likely to report eyestrain, and five times more likely to report low back pain, compared to non-teleworkers. Increases in eyestrain and low back pain were significant with even one or two days per week of telework.

"This finding suggests that greater attention is needed for the health of workers who must abruptly begin teleworking without adequate preparation," Tezuka and coauthors conclude. They outline steps to prevent physical symptoms in teleworkers: taking frequent breaks to reduce sitting time while providing time for increased physical activity. The researchers also call on employers to provide education about working in the home environment, and to provide appropriate office chairs and computer equipment.
About the Author
Masato Tezuka may be contacted for interviews at 214k301k@stu.kobe-u.ac.jp.
ACOEM (www.acoem.org), an international society of 4,000 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.
About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (www.joem.org) is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.


Tezuka M, Nagata T, Saeki K, Tsuboi Y, Fukutani N. Association between abrupt change to teleworking and physical symptoms during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) emergency declaration in Japan. J Occup Environ Med. 2022;64(1):1-5.