Lower back, neck pain among most common workplace injuries for radiologists

Nearly one-third of practicing radiologists in the U.S. report job-related lower back pain, according to the American College of Radiology’s most recent commission workforce survey—and they’re not the only ones complaining.

Radiologists who report musculoskeletal injuries at work could be suffering the pitfalls of the PACS era, Jay R. Parikh, MD, and colleagues wrote in a review published this week in the Journal of the American College of Radiology. While radiology professionals have spent the past three decades transitioning from an older, film-based environment to one centered around a digital archiving and communication system, relying on PACS could be hurting some physicians more than it helps them.

“Compared with the film environment, the PACS environment has inherent potential benefits for radiologists and patients, including more efficient scheduling and workflow, less space required for data storage, greater ease of standardization of structured reporting and improved billing,” Parikh et al. wrote.

But that also means radiologists have less face-to-face interaction with patients and have to face the physical consequences of a computer-based workforce. Ineffective workplace arrangements and sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time can result in musculoskeletal injuries that, in 2018, range from “computer back” to “mouse shoulder.”

Nearly 500 practice leaders representing a third of all practicing American radiologists were contacted by the ACR’s Human Resources Commission, Parikh and co-authors said. The leaders were asked to fill out a survey detailing workplace injuries among their staff, and musculoskeletal complaints were far from a rarity.

Thirty-two percent of practice leaders said radiologists at their practices reported back pain, while 25 percent and 16 percent said physicians reported neck pain or repetitive stress injuries, respectively.

Poor job satisfaction and negative workplace environments could be contributing to the issue, the authors wrote, since both factors have been key players in previous studies on the topic. And, in radiology, decreased job satisfaction often means burnout.

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

They said increasing awareness of the problem could be critical and “catalyze a culture change in radiology in which more practices are ergonomically designed to help prevent musculoskeletal ailments and improve job satisfaction.”