Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) are the single largest category of workplace injuries in the United States. These disorders are responsible for almost 30 percent of all worker’s compensation costs. U.S. companies spend approximately $50 billion on MSDs each year.
The economic and physical costs of MSDs are especially troubling in light of the fact that these disorders are also preventable. The key is to understand what a MSD is and how to prevent them.
MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the body’s movement or musculoskeletal system. This includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, and more. MSDs are also referred to as repetitive motion injuries or overuse injuries. This is a misnomer, however, because research points to the fact that these injuries are often time caused by multiple factors. The most common MSDs include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, muscle or tendon strain, ligament strain, tension neck syndrome and many, many more.
The root cause of MSDs is exposure to risk factors at work and in daily life outside of work. Work-related risk factors are primarily caused by the following:
- High task repetition
- Forceful exertions
- Repetitive or sustained awkward postures
Individual risk factors include the following:
- Poor work practices. Poor body work practices create unnecessary stress on the body. These practices include things like poor lifting techniques or body mechanics.
- Poor overall health habits. These include things like excessive smoking, drinking or obesity.
- Poor rest and recover. When workers do not get adequate rest and recovery, they are at a higher risk for MSDs.
- Poor nutrition, fitness and hydration.
They key to preventing MSDs is to reduce both work-related and individual risk factors. While a company can offer training, education, and an ergonomically sound work environment, if a worker does not commit to decreasing risk factors on and off the job, MSDs cannot be prevented.
The fact that MSDs are caused by a combination of risk factors – both on and off the job – has led to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health supporting what they refer to as “Total Worker Health.” This strategy integrates occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent workplace injury and illness.
When a company experiences a large number of MSDs despite a comprehensive workplace strategy aimed at prevention, it is important that individuals look at their own daily habits to see what can be improved. Only when work-place and individual risk factors are addressed can MSDs be eradicated completely.