Specialist examines patient for Musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal illness is a common and costly problem in the United States that has been correlated strongly to the workplace. Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that musculoskeletal disorders are the largest category of workplace injuries, making up nearly 30% of workers’ compensation claims. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says musculoskeletal disorders account for nearly 70 million physician visits in the U.S. each year at a cost of up to $54 billion. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the indirect costs can even be up to five times higher. 

What causes most musculoskeletal disorders and how can businesses mitigate this burden when the job itself requires certain repetitive tasks?

Woman experiences Musculoskeletal disorder in her back from work

What Are Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Musculoskeletal disorders are often preventable injuries affecting the musculoskeletal system. This includes everything in the body from the bones and joints, to connective tissues, nerves, and blood vessels. Some of the most common musculoskeletal disorders include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Ligament sprain
  • Mechanical back syndrome
  • Muscle or tendon sprain
  • Radial tunnel syndrome
  • Rotator cuff tendonitis
  • Ruptured or herniated disc
  • Tendonitis
  • Tension neck syndrome
  • Trigger finger or trigger thumb

The World Health Organization (WHO) says musculoskeletal disorders are made up of more than 150 conditions that affect the mobility of these patients. These conditions are characterized most frequently by pain, stiffness, and movement restrictions. Low back pain, fractures, neck pain, arthritis, and more, are all coming conditions caused by musculoskeletal disorders.

Many of these conditions are caused by exposure to risk factors, particularly those found in the workplace.

Warehouse working experiences Musculoskeletal disorder, or an injury to his back

What Causes Musculoskeletal Disorders?

In 2017, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the CDC teamed up to track the evidence showing most musculoskeletal disorders are work-related. They found these disorders not only common in the workplace, but chronic. 

Some of the examples of work-related conditions causing musculoskeletal disorders included:

  • Awkward postures that overload the tendons, muscles, and joints
  • Continual overhead work requiring reaching above the head
  • Daily exposure to vibration affecting the entire body, such as from a jack hammer or large equipment
  • Forceful exertions at work causing straining with high force loads
  • Performing forceful repetitive tasks
  • Routine and regular lifting of heavy items
  • Work with the neck in a persistent chronic flexion position

The study identified correlations between these behaviors and musculoskeletal disorders of the back, elbow, hand, neck, shoulder, and wrist. When an employee is repeatedly exposed to these conditions, the body begins to break down. 

While musculoskeletal disorder can happen suddenly from a trip, fall, or sprain, it can also be gradual, caused by repetitive motion. Over time, as the fatigue caused by the repetitive motion reinjuries tissue, eventually the musculoskeletal disorder arises. 

Yet the fault for musculoskeletal disorders does not rest entirely on the workplace environment. There are also individual risk factors for these disorders that include:

  •  Failing to follow safety rules or other poor work practices, such as improper lifting
  • Poor health habits such as dehydration, bad diet, or a sedentary lifestyle
  • Inadequate rest and recovery after a musculoskeletal injury

A combination of posture, force and repetition, along with poor health habits, a lack of fitness, and even poor work practices can lead to musculoskeletal injury in the workplace. A study in the Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology said: 

“There is an international near consensus that musculoskeletal disorders are causally related to occupational ergonomic stressors, such as repetitive and stereotyped motions. Forceful exertions, non-neutral postures, vibration, and combinations of these exposures.” 

If musculoskeletal disorders are caused both by individual and work-related factors, how can organizations take steps to improve health outcomes for their workforce?

Office workers are at risk for Musculoskeletal disorders as well as physical labor employees

Developing a Worker Safety Program to Combat Chronic MSK

NIOSH suggests a program for “total worker health.” Their goal is to not only prioritize the development of a workplace without safety hazards but also “integrated interventions that collectively address worker safety, health, and well-being.” 

Traditional workplace health safety programs emphasize minimizing hazards and creating employee awareness. Few programs address a proactive response to preventing workplace injuries through ergonomics. Even fewer still leverage telemedicine to provide immediate triage and treatment to the workforce. 

Let’s look at both approaches to mitigate some of the risks of workplace musculoskeletal injuries.

Work Ergonomics 

The CDC calls ergonomics “The science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capability of the working population.” 

Ergonomics programs seek to lessen the physical stressors of the workplace that lead to musculoskeletal injuries. Some programs leverage personal protective equipment to assist workers and prevent the overuse of muscles, repetitive tasks, and bad posture. 

OSHA recommends six primary steps for implementing a complete ergonomics in a business:

  • Full participation and buy-in from management to the employees
  • Train workers and managers in hazard identification that lead to musculoskeletal injuries
  • Analyze the job site and workplace behaviors to eliminate factors leading to injury
  • Train the workforce in new physical behaviors to prevent musculoskeletal disorders
  • Manage these programs with ongoing attention and rigor
  • Build in evaluation metrics in a continuously improving process
  • Recording all results for data analysis

The goal of workplace ergonomics programs is to manage and mitigate risks associated with musculoskeletal injury but also to retain workers to improve their performance and lessen the chances of these disorders. 

But any ergonomic or safety program misses one crucial ingredient; how to mitigate a workplace injury should it occur.

Remote Injury Care Telemedicine 

Telemedicine is a workplace safety tool that allows immediate access to medical treatment on site when an injury occurs. By using the video-based telemedicine, OrthoLive Remote Injury Care offers an easy-to-use platform that leverages a national network of orthopaedic experts to provide triage to injured workers within minutes. 

These providers are available 24/7/365 to provide fast on-site triage to your workforce to help reduce trips to the ER. Why is this important?

Most workplace injuries are minor musculoskeletal disorders stemming from trips and falls. Annually, employers spend more than $176 billion to treat 77% of the healthcare visits that stem from these injuries. Many warrant no further treatment than self-care, but they often end up in the hospital as an OSHA recordable event simply because the employer doesn’t realize there are other options.

Contact OrthoLive today to find out how we can reduce your injury cost by up to 85%.

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