A simple office-based program of relaxation and posture exercises can reduce the incidence of headaches, and shoulder and neck pain by more than 40 per cent, a new research suggests.
During the study, a team of Italian researchers found that office staff who took part in an eight-month workplace initiative reported that headaches and neck and shoulder pain fell by more than 40 per cent and their use of painkillers halved.
They also reported that pain levels were less severe at the end of the study than at the start.
For the study, researchers compared 169 staff in Turin's registry and tax offices with 175 colleagues who hadn't taken part in the educational and physical programme.
Using daily diaries completed by both groups, they compared the baseline results for months one and two of the study with months seven and eight to see if there had been any changes. The study group started following the programme in month three.
Researchers found that at the start of the study, staff in both groups reported an average of six headache days a month and seven and a half days when they were affected by neck and shoulder pain.
They needed to take analgesic drugs two days a month.
By the end of the trial, staff in the study group reported that they suffered from 41 per cent fewer headaches, with staff in the control group reporting a negligible rise of 0.02 per cent.
Researchers also found that the study group staff reported 43 per cent less neck and shoulder pain, as compared to staff in the control group who reported a five per cent reduction.
When it came to medication, the study group reported a 51 per cent reduction in analgesic use and the control group reported a fall of 15 per cent.
And subjects with anxiety or depression showed a better than average response as compared to the rest of the study group.
Besides this, researchers wanted to find out whether the workplace initiative also reduced the 'global burden' of the employee's headaches and neck and shoulder pain.
They found that employees in the study group reported a 41 per cent reduction in headache burden, as compared to a two per cent fall for the control group.
The burden of neck and shoulder pain was 54 per cent lower in the study group by the end of the study, with the control group recording a reduction of four per cent.
"Staff in the study group were asked to carry out a series of relaxation and posture exercises every two to three hours and provided with red labels to place around their work area to remind them to avoid excessive contraction of their head and shoulder muscles" said lead author Professor Franco Mongini from the Headache and Facial Pain Unit at the University of Turin, Italy.
"The exercises also included two daily periods of ten to 15 minutes when staff relaxed quietly at home in a comfortable armchair with warming pads placed on their cheeks and shoulders," he added.
The programme was designed by Mongini and was explained using a short film, followed by a practical demonstration and training.
"Our study clearly shows that workplace interventions can reduce headaches and neck and shoulder pain," Mongini said.
"The methods adopted were relatively simple and the positive response from the employees, including the low study drop-out rate, suggest that it would prove popular in other workplaces.
"We also believe that employers would support this low-cost initiative as it would improve productivity in the workplace," he added.
The study is published in the May issue of Cephalalgia.