: Contradictory feedback can cause neck and back pain in workers

Columbus, OH – Cognitive dissonance may be a previously unknown risk factor for neck and lower back pain among workers performing lifting and lowering duties, according to the results of a new study.

Researchers at Ohio State University asked seventeen participants, aged 19 to 44, perform a precision-lowering task. They placed a light box within a square of a surface which was moved up, down, left and right. During the first 45-minute lifting/lowering trial, participants received almost all positive feedback. During the second test, the researchers told the participants that they had performed the task in an unsatisfactory manner.

Wearable sensors and motion capture technology were used to detect peak spine loads in the neck, low back and both compression and vertebral movement (or shear) from side to side and forward and backward (A/P).

After receiving the contradictory feedback, which created cognitive dissonance, the participants experienced increased loads in their neck and lower back during a subsequent lifting and lowering session. The average peak spinal loads were 19.3% higher for lateral shear in the neck and 11.1% higher for compression during the negative feedback session compared to baseline measurements. Peak loads in the low back were higher by 2.2% in shear and by 1.7% in compression in the third session.

Participants’ blood pressure and heart rates varied, and two questionnaires were used to assess discomfort levels. The results also included a positive and negative effect on the participants – either feeling inspired and strong or distressed and ashamed.

Researchers note that the findings may have implications for workplace risk prevention.

The Ohio State News reported that “This increased spinal loading occurred in just one condition, with a relatively light load.” William Marras is the senior study author and executive director of OSU’s Spine Research Institute. “You can imagine how this would look with more complex tasks and higher loads. For one time, a small percentage of the load is not a big deal. Think about the impact of working 40 hours per week, day after day.

The study was published in the online journal Ergonomics.