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Musculoskeletal Disorders at Work - What are They and How You Can Prevent Them

02 January 2024

When we hear the term work-related injuries, the first thing that comes to our mind is workplace accidents. While accidents are one of the most commonly reported workplace injuries, they aren't the only workplace hazards that we're referring to here. You're exposed to many other workplace risks and hazards that are closely associated with your health and well-being.

Work-related musculoskeletal injuries (WRMI) or work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMD) are a group of injuries and disorders that are sustained due to incorrect (unsafe and unhealthy) practices at work.

Knowing these disorders and how to prevent them will help you ensure your health and safety at work. The healthier and safer you are at work, the better your productivity will be.

This blog post will help you understand work-related musculoskeletal disorders better and find ways in which you can prevent them.

What are Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are characterized by painful conditions of the muscles, nerves, and tendons which are caused due to repetitive movements like holding, griping, bending, straightening, clenching, reaching, and twisting. These movements aren't actually dangerous but make them dangerous at work because of the continuous repetition and lack of time between movements for recovery. As a result, the muscles, tendons, and nerves get damaged, and you experience extreme discomfort and pain. If not addressed on time, it may even lead to lifelong disabilities.



How Do Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Occur?

You may want to know how these work-related musculoskeletal disorders occur in the first place. Well, only if you know the physiology behind these disorders will you be able to prevent them more effectively.

This group of disorders encompasses 3 types of injuries: muscle injury, tendon injury, and nerve injury. Let's look at each of these in detail below:

Work-Related Muscle Injury

The most common type of work-related injury is the injury of the muscles. When your muscles are constantly at work, they're in a contracted state most of the time. When muscles contract, they consume the energy produced from the metabolism of sugars. The process produces lactic acid as a by-product, constantly removing the muscles from the blood. However, prolonged muscular contraction reduces the blood flow to the muscles, and as a result, lactic acid starts to build up, and this is what causes muscle fatigue. A build-up of lactic acid causes pain. If the muscles stay in the fatigued state for too long, it can result in muscle damage.

Work-Related Tendon Injury

Work-related tendon injuries are of two types; injury of tendons with sheath (in hands and wrists) and tendons without sheath (in shoulders, forearm, and elbow).

Repetitive activities at work, like continuous typing or gripping, can affect the lubrication system that ensures there's no resistance between the tendon and its sheath. However, when the lubrication system malfunctions due to excessive repetitive movements, there's the resistance between the tendon and the sheath, resulting in inflammation of the tendon area. If it continues, fibrous tissues may also form, which can cause tendon stiffness and pain.

As far as the tendons in the forearms, shoulders, and elbows are concerned, they get affected due to sitting in an awkward posture at work. Prolonged tension in these tendons can cause tendon fibers to tear. Tension in these tendons also causes inflammation even if the fibers don't tear. The inflammation of tendons (tendonitis) is a painful condition that can affect your ability to work.

Work-Related Nerve Injury

Muscles and tendons surround nerves. Awkward postures and repetitive movements cause the inflammation of muscles and tendons, which can compress the nerves. Compression of nerves can cause numbness, tingling sensation, weakness, and even pain.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are characterized by weakness, fatigue, and pain, and if you don't get medical attention on time and work towards correcting your posture at work, you can end up with lifelong disabilities.



How Can You Prevent Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders?

You shouldn't take work-related musculoskeletal disorders lightly. As we've said above, if you don't address the symptoms on time, they may lead to lifelong disabilities.

The good news is that you can prevent work-related disorders. As they say, prevention is better than cure, and in the case of musculoskeletal disorders, it's absolutely valid!

Below are some ways in which you can reduce the risk of developing work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

Take Frequent Breaks Between Work

One of the major causes of work-related musculoskeletal disorders is not giving the muscles the time to recover from the fatigue caused by continuous muscle contraction. One of the most effective ways of preventing work-related muscle fatigue and reducing the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders is taking frequent breaks between work. Take a few minutes to break after every hour or two to give the muscles some time to recover from the fatigue. Taking a quick walk or simply stretching at work can help alleviate the stiffness in the muscles and tendons and relieve the discomfort or pain you experience from working non-stop.

Read Your Body's Signs

Your body clearly tells you the stress is getting too much and that you need to stop working. It's just that we're so engrossed in work that we often overlook these signs. One of the best ways to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders is to know how to read your body's signs. If any part of the body, like shoulders, neck, or wrists hurt from working continuously, don't put any additional strain and stop working then and there. Take a quick break and allow your muscles to release stress and relax.

Work on Correcting Your Posture

So far, the most promising way of preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders is working on posture correction. You can alleviate most of the stress on your body by simply correcting the posture you work in.

Sitting and working in an incorrect posture puts immense stress on the muscles, tendons, and spine, increasing musculoskeletal disorders.

You can correct your posture by using the right ergonomic equipment. The ergonomic equipment that's suitable for you depends on the nature of your job. If your job requires you to sit in front of the computer all day long, an ergonomic chair and ergonomic desk will help you work in the correct posture. If your job requires you to do a lot of typing, an ergonomic keyboard will reduce the stress on the joints and muscles of your fingers and wrists. If you've got to stand at work for long hours, a sit-to-stand workstation would be the best for you. It all depends on what is the nature of your job.



How Improving Workplace Ergonomics Reduce the Risk of Musculoskeletal Disorders?

We mentioned above that using ergonomic equipment could help reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. The question is how?

The use of ergonomic equipment in a workplace drastically improves ergonomics. The thing about ergonomic equipment is that it can be adjusted to suit individual comfort needs. When each employee is working in a comfortable environment, the stress on different parts of their body will be greatly minimized, and with that, the risk of musculoskeletal disorders will also decrease.

An ergonomic work desk, for example, comes with adjustable height features. The user can adjust the height to suit themselves so that they don't have to sit in awkward postures (with the back stretched if the desk is too high or the back curved if the desk is too low). These postures put pressure on the spine, muscles, and tendons of the back, shoulder, and neck, which can be a possible cause of musculoskeletal disorders.

An ergonomic chair like the Soutien Ergonomic Office Chair (C5) can also do wonders when it comes to minimizing the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The user can adjust the chair's height, the seat's depth, and the backrest's incline to ensure all of the body is adequately supported while the user is seated. Ergonomic chairs also have armrests to provide elbows support so that the tendons and muscles around the elbow region don't get fatigued.

Another essential ergonomic piece of equipment is an ergonomic keyboard. One of the most common musculoskeletal disorders in people who use the keyboard for long hours at work is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome which is characterized by the compression of the nerve in the wrist that causes numbness, discomfort, and pain in the fingers and makes typing difficult. An ergonomic keyboard features a unique design that allows the user to place their arms in a natural position so that the stress on the nerves and joints of the hands is reduced, and with that, the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders is also reduced.

Closing Word

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are getting more common today than they ever were, primarily because most jobs require individuals to sit while working, and rarely do people work on their postures, which puts them at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders. You can reduce the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders by correcting your posture, taking short breaks between work, and using the right equipment at work.