Lipoatrophia semi-circularis

1. I have heard that some people who work with computers have strias on their legs at about thigh-level called Lipoatrophia semicircularis. Could you explain what this means?

Lipoatrophia semicircularis, commonly called “ribbed thighs”, is described as a rare, idiopathic condition that is characterized by semicircular impressions of the skin due to the disappearance of subcutaneous fatty tissue. In most cases the lipoatrophy is localised at the anterolateral part of both thighs at a height of approximately 72 cm measured standing up from the floor with shoes on. This corresponds precisely to the standard height of office desks.

Twenty years ago, only a few cases of this disorder were described in the scientific literature. At present, hundreds of cases have been registered in important Belgian companies.

The phenomenon appears amongst persons working in new buildings with new furniture, and who were often using new or adjusted computer equipment. This led to the suspicion that an electromagnetic field generated by cabling and computer equipment might be linked to the disease.

Other factors also occur, such as the low relative humidity of the work area (air conditioning leads to low humidity) and the materials on the top of the desk.

The disorder appears mainly in females and is reversible (disappears after a leave/holiday e.g. maternity leave).

Studies were performed to better understand the role of electricity in this phenomenon. For more information, feel free to contact Toxicology team or visit the page dedicated to Lipoatrophia semicircularis.

Other information at the following address: (pp 45-46)

2. I would like to ask about the “Lipoatrophia semicircularis”. Is there a treatment or will it disappear with e time ?

We should at first say that there is, as far as we know, no particular treatment. There are, however, some simple measures that one can use and that may help. As a matter of fact, it is still not sure what the cause of Lipoatrophia semicircularis (L.s) is, but overall our hypothesis of an electromagnetic origin is the most heard and accepted one. After a first outbreak of L.s. in Belgium and the formulation of our hypothesis, there was a new important outbreak of L.s. in Spain. Research there reached the same conclusion as ours: L.s. may be due to charges leaking from electrical appliances (computers, etc.) together with a number of other factors, e.g., inadequate air conditioning, etc. In the papers below, you will find a description of the different factors that, in our opinion, and based on experiments, may contribute to L.s.

Particularly with respect to your question: with some people, the L.s. condition disappears ‘spontaneously’ but not with others. This is presumably because of a difference in sensitivity and (unintentional) changes in the environment creating particular conditions that do not favour L.s. If you want to get rid of L.s., we think that it is best to apply the simple measures described in the papers: control of AC, change of desk (other material), change of location of the desk in the room, avoid too many electrical cables or electrical apparatus near the working place, insulate the edge of the desk, etc. You should experience for yourself what will really help.

Verschaeve L., & Maes A. (2009)
Support for the hypothesis that electro-stimulation is responsible for Lipoatrophia semicircularis. Med. Hypotheses, 73, 802-806.

Verschaeve L., & Maes A. (2009)
In vitro investigations related to the ‘electromagnetic hypothesis’ of Lipoatrophia semicircularis. J. Appl. Toxicol ., 29, 478-482.

Maes A., Curvers B., & Verschaeve L. (2003)
Lipoatrophia semicircularis: the electromagnetic hypothesis. Electromagnet. Biol. Med. 22, 183-193.

3. I have lipoatrophia semicircularis (Ls) on one of my thighs. I think it is related to the electrical equipment (computer, printer, telephone) that I use at work. The equipment is on my desk and on the side of the hollow in my thigh.

I’d like to take actions to protect myself from this lipoatrophy. What can I do? 

 Indeed, one of the scientific hypotheses is that Ls is of electrical origin, linked to the presence of electrical/computer equipment and wiring. However, other factors also play a role, such as low humidity or the type of materials used to build the desk. The onset of Ls is not directly related to electromagnetic fields, but probably to other electrostimulation phenomena, such as the accumulation of charged particles – in the air or dust – on the edge of the desk, causing micro-discharges between the desk and the skin.

The atrophy on the thigh is generally reversible.

It is recommended that you adapt your work environment if you notice a reduction or even disappearance of the atrophy when you are absent for a period of time, for example on holiday.

If you have a Ls, we recommend that you first inform the occupational medicine and discuss the possibilities for adapting your work environment.

Here are some suggestions for improving the situation:

  • Moisten the air in the room with a humidifier.
  •  Connect the edge of your desk to an earthed, self-adhesive copper strip (see diagram below):

Documents & Links

Topics that might interest you ...