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Title: Upper body musculoskeletal pain associated with remote working of academics at the Durban University of Technology during the COVID-19 pandemic
Authors: Narainsamy, Nevinia 
Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic;Ergonomics;Musculoskeletal pain;Remote working
Issue Date: 29-Sep-2022
The world-wide pandemic COVID-19, which initiated international lockdowns and varied
degrees of work considerations, enforced remote working to reduce the spread of
infection. Ergonomic support for effective remote working during this rapid transition
received little consideration. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) associated with
musculoskeletal pain (MSP) are frequently linked to poor ergonomic support at the
workplace and compromises the quality of life of those affected. MSP may be aggravated
by prolonged, repetitive, and awkward movements, poor posture and ergonomics, or a
fast-paced workload. Additionally, the onset of upper body MSP contributes to workrelated MSDs, resulting in decreased work productivity. It is believed that the current shift
to remote working may result in an increase in MSP. This study, therefore, aims to
determine the prevalence and effects of upper body musculoskeletal pain (head, neck,
shoulder and back) associated with the ergonomic changes of remote working during the
current COVID-19 pandemic.
1. To determine the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain among those working
remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. To determine the selected risk factors predisposing to upper body musculoskeletal
pain as an ergonomic effect of remote working.
3. To identify the extent to which remote working has impacted the occurrence of
musculoskeletal pain with particular reference to ergonomic aspects.
4. To determine the effects of musculoskeletal pain and its impact on work
5. To provide guidelines/recommendations and future considerations to support the
prevention of MSP during remote working.
A quantitative, descriptive cross-sectional study was conducted on all Durban University of
Technology (DUT) academic staff members, to obtain relevant data regarding the onset of musculoskeletal pain and ergonomical factors, whilst working remotely during the COVID19 pandemic. Data were collected through the use of an online questionnaire,
administered through DUT’s electronic platform. The Dutch Musculoskeletal Questionnaire
was adapted to focus more on ergonomics and working remotely. Descriptive statistics
were used to provide summarised questionnaire data. All data were analyzed using the
IBM SPSS version 25 software package. Bivariate analyses, such as the Pearson’s chisquared test, ANOVA, and T-tests, where appropriate, were done. A p<0.05 was
considered statistically significant. Findings of similar studies, both locally and
internationally, provided generalised and more contextualised recommendations related to
the ergonomic effects of working remotely.
In summary, 87.2% of participants reported to having musculoskeletal pain (MSP) prior to
COVID-19. However, there was a massive increase in MSP while remote working, with
81.8% of participants reporting MSP during COVID-19. A great number of academic staff
members (52.7%) reported to have worked remotely and having suitable equipment
(59.1%) to facilitate remote work. With a reported increase in workload (89.1%), there was
also an increase in productivity (53.6%). The most severe location of pain while remote
working was the back (25.5%). Ergonomic factors that were noteworthy were that 64.5%
participants sat without their back supported; shoulders were not relaxed in neutral
(68.2%); wrists were not in a neutral position (51.8%) and the neck was not in a neutral
position while remote working (63.6%). These factors remained consistent before and
during COVID-19, indicating a minute change in the statistical significance of ergonomic
factors. The p-value was less than 0.001. Regarding the emotional states of the
respondents, it has been revealed that there was an association between the emotional
status before and during COVID-19. All corresponding p-values were less than 0.001,
indicating a statistically significant relationship.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented pressures on governments,
economies, and families, posing what many observers consider the largest global peacetime challenge since the Great Depression a century ago. In South Africa, the government
moved swiftly after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 on 5 March 2020, which
subsequently led to a national lockdown by 27 March 2020. This placed huge challenges on the population, especially for the poor and those working from home. The exponential
rise in COVID-19 infections rapidly transformed how and if people would return to the
traditional way of working. Working from home during the nationwide lockdown led to poor
quality of work and a lack of efficiency, which ultimately led to poor work productivity.
Many employers worldwide chose to protect both the health and job security of their
employees by implementing remote working. The average household lack the
components of a functional office setup such as a simple desk and good quality chair. This
consequently predisposed many to work hunched over coffee tables or on kitchen stools
without proper neck and back support. It is possible that many working individuals will
emerge with increased incidence of MSP after the coronavirus crisis. Ergonomic support
for effective remote working may have been ignored amidst the more disastrous effects of
the pandemic, but the crisis becoming a major contributor to an increased onset of MSP.
This is likely to remain as the norm, even after the shifting of lockdowns, for millions of
workers. The adverse effects of the pandemic thus appear to extend beyond its direct
consequences into an increased onset of ergonomical concerns that warrants some
investigation. This study therefore aimed to determine the prevalence and effects of upper
body (head, neck, shoulder and back) musculoskeletal pain associated with ergonomic
changes experienced with remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hoped
that the results of this study will inform interventions to redress such effects in remote
working climates.
Dissertation submitted in partial compliance with the requirements for the
Master’s Degree in Technology: Chiropractic, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa, 2022.
Appears in Collections:Theses and dissertations (Health Sciences)

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