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Mobile app helps you fight chronic pain from your desk

Sharon Florentine | Jan. 27, 2014
Experience chronic neck or back pain? Headaches or migraines? That expensive, ergonomic chair might be doing you more harm than good. But Voom, a mobile wellness app developed by two chiropractors, aims to tackle repetitive stress injuries.

Most office workers are well aware of the threat of carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive motion injuries. But what most don't know is that prolonged sitting can cause equally painful and disruptive repetitive strain disorders, including neck and back pain, headaches and migraines. And that ergonomic chair could be making it worse.

Musculoskelatal strains, and the accompanying neck, back and wrist pain, are the fastest-growing class of workman's compensation injury, and chiropractor Dr. Eric Soltanoff saw plenty of patients presenting with these types of symptoms over the last few years.

"My brother and I both are chiropractors, and we both noticed we were seeing a lot of folks with this similar neck pain and shoulder blade pain, with headaches, migraines, low-back pain issues," Soltanoff says.

"All of a sudden, once we looked at their professions, the common ground became obvious — these are computer and technology workers that are sedentary. They all 'assumed the position:' slouched forward, dominant hand extended for the mouse, neck protruding forward and down, and they were sitting this way eight hours a day, 40 hours a week, sometimes for years. No wonder they're in pain," he says.

This type of repetitive stress injury is known as "insidious onset," in that there's no acute, one-time event that causes injury and pain as would happen in a slip-and-fall, or a lifting injury, Soltanoff says. The specific types of injuries Soltanoff was seeing were caused when muscle groups were taxed to the point of fatigue and then could no longer support the limbs and extremities they were supposed to, he says.

Once the cause of the problem was identified, Soltanoff and his brother set about to develop a solution, which they unveiled in 2011. Their mobile wellness application, now known as Voom, was released in its second generation form in October 2013, and is gaining ground in corporations across the United States, he says, buoyed by Center for Disease Control research showing that inactivity can cause chronic pain, injuries and disease, and can even contribute to premature mortality.

Comfortably Numb
The irony, Soltanoff says, is that many of the patients he saw were using ergonomic chairs to try and prevent repetitive motion injuries when, in fact, the chairs were making repetitive stress injuries worse while creating new problems.

"When they develop these ergonomic chairs that are supposed to prevent you from getting a repetitive motion injury, you are less likely to move. You sit longer, and that can actually be more destructive," Soltanoff says.

"The simple solution is to stop inactivity - that's what we're trying to do," Soltanoff says. "We've found through our own observations and user feedback that once an hour, for two minutes is the least disruptive and most effective. Every 30 minutes is too frequent, every two hours is not frequent enough."


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