It’s easy to look at ergonomics as an expense rather than an investment. But think about it this way: many people choose a car for its safety features, believing those features are worth the cost of protecting themselves and their families. Businesses who purchase ergonomic products for their employees demonstrate their commitment to their health and well-being. More and more organizations are beginning to realize the importance of helping their people prevent injuries that can be more costly down the line, when weighed against the costs for sick time, short- or long-term disability, and insurance premiums.
What are Musculoskeletal Disorders?
Musculoskeletal Disorders, or MSDs, are issues that affect the body’s movement. The musculoskeletal system consists of bones, ligaments, joints, cartilage, muscles, nerves, discs, and other connective tissue. In other words, the parts of the body that hold everything together as well as upright.
Other terms for MSDs include “repetitive stress injury” and “repetitive motion injury,” but those terms are becoming outdated. Where once it was thought that a single type of repetitive motion could cause MSDs, experts are seeing research that indicates there may be more than one risk factor for these injuries.
Common Musculoskeletal Disorders
Problems collectively referred to as musculoskeletal disorders can include:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Radial Tunnel Syndrome
- Ruptured or Herniated Disc
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Trigger Finger/Thumb
MSDs can cause discomfort and pain in any part of the body, but back pain is the one of the most common symptoms.
Helping Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders
It’s important to educate yourself and others about how to safely carry out job functions in the workplace. These injuries don’t always occur in workers who do physical jobs like construction. Workers in all industries have risk factors specific to their job functions; even office workers are prone to musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome. Over time, MSDs can add up to serious conditions that can lead to extended time off work, surgery, or even permanent disability.
A large part of ergonomics does focus on preventing injuries; however, that’s not the only reason for ergonomics. Ergonomics also focuses on worker comfort as well as optimizing human performance. In other words, ergonomics helps improve working conditions on the job and at home.
There are many causes of musculoskeletal disorders. From injuries due to accidents to repetitive motions, poor posture, and overuse, these problems can cause spinal alignment problems, muscle shortening, and even tendon or nerve damage.
Some of the most common occupational risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders can be slowed or prevented by avoiding:
- Repetitive wrist motions
- Prolonged shoulder flexion
- Sustained hyperextension of one or both arms
- Repeated rotation of the forearm while bending the wrist
- Carrying loads on the shoulders
- Improper work posture
- Prolonged exposure to vibration
The list above reflects only a few of the best practices for preventing musculoskeletal disorders; in general, repetitive motions and movements that cause any part of the body to bend or stretch in an unnatural way can lead to musculoskeletal disorders—so be sure to limit those activities as much as possible.