Musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, are extremely common and include a wide range of injuries to the muscular and skeletal systems. Among the most common examples are carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis.
This category of disorders isn’t clearly defined or always well understood in medical fields. To make matters more confusing, a range of different names may be used interchangeably when talking about MSDs. Some of these are
- repetitive motion injury
- repetitive strain injury
- repetitive stress injury and
- repetitive motion disorder
It’s important to note that repetitive motion isn’t typically the only factor that leads to MSDs. Focusing only on the potential dangers of repetitive motion, without considering other factors, can be counterproductive. For example, certain types of motion can’t be avoided in the workplace. Having employees increase breaks or perform less of the motions is likely to lower productivity, but may still fail to prevent MSDs from occurring.
What’s needed is a comprehensive strategy that considers all of the risk factors associated with MSDs.
What causes MSDs
Causes of MSDs can be categorized as individual, ergonomic and psychosocial factors. Individual factors contributing to MSDs include poor physical fitness, poor overall health habits, and poor work practices. Ergonomic factors include forceful exertions, high task repetition and repeated or sustained awkward postures such as those developed from poor seating. Psychosocial factors are things like job strain, lack of social support at work and job dissatisfaction. They aren’t a direct cause of physical pain, but can play a role in the transition from acute to chronic pain and the potential development of a disability.
Ways to prevent MSDs in the workplace
Prevention is better than cure, and this applies especially in the case of MSDs. As a famous analogy, rather use a fence on a stretch of mountainside road to prevent cars toppling over the edge than putting ambulances at the bottom of the hill!
Measures for helping prevent MSDs in the workplace include
- routinely performing task-relevant warm-up exercises
- learning proper body and lifting mechanics
- identifying ergonomic improvement opportunities; for example, repairing and adjusting office chairs and PC monitor height
- using counteractive stretching to relieve back strain
- practicing proper nutrition and hydration
- adopting proper sitting posture and suitable sleeping positions
- investing in ergonomically designed office chairs
Ergonomic Office Furniture is Key
An office chair with all the right features is vital to preventing MSDs in the workplace. Your chair may seem comfortable when you first sit down at the beginning of the day, but after sitting for eight hours, a chair’s true colours will show. A properly designed ergonomic office chair will have a comfortable cushion (or equally comfortable and more heat-dispersing netting), adjustable armrests, adjustable seat height and back rest height and angle, and most importantly, lumbar support. The lumbar region is the area of the lower back that curves inward, which often takes strain when sitting on poor chairs, being made to curve out, damaging the spine.
If you begin to experience fatigue, discomfort or pain due to the position you have to maintain or the tasks you perform at work, it’s best to report this immediately. Also seek professional help before the pain develops into a full MSD and your functional capacity is affected.