What Are MSDs and Why Your Employees Might Be at Risk

What Are MSDs and Why Your Employees Might Be at Risk

man with back pain

MSDs are musculoskeletal disorders and defined as injuries or disorders that affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. 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. They are the largest category of workplace injuries. Musculoskeletal disorders and their costs are preventable. Other terms for MSDs are “repetitive motion injury,” “repetitive stress injury,” and “overuse injury,” unfortunately this leads one to believe there is just one main cause—repetition and stress—when current research is indicating otherwise.

Common MSDs include:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Tendonitis
  • Muscle / Tendon strain
  • Ligament Sprain
  • Tension Neck Syndrome
  • Thoracic Outlet Compression
  • Rotator Cuff Tendonitis
  • Epicondylitis
  • Radial Tunnel Syndrome
  • Digital Neuritis
  • Trigger Finger / Thumb
  • Mechanical Back Syndrome
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Ruptured / Herniated Disc

Risk Factors

Working positions and postures, how often the task is performed, the level of required effort, and how long the task lasts are frequent risk factors. Tasks that may lead to the development of MSDs include:

Applying excessive force. While uncommon in most offices, examples of this sort include lifting heavy objects or people, pushing or pulling heavy loads, manually pouring materials, or maintaining control of equipment or tools.

carpal tunnel wrist brace Completing the same or similar tasks repetitively. Quite prevalent in an office setting, this can include performing the same motion or series of motions for an extended period of time, such as typing or using a mouse.

Using odd postures or remaining in the same posture for long periods of time. Activities placing stress on certain areas of the body, such as prolonged or repetitive reaching above shoulder height, kneeling, squatting, or sitting or standing for long periods of time.

Localized pressure into the body part. Using a keyboard or mouse or engaging in other activity that presses the body or part of the body against hard surfaces.

Cold temperatures. For example, meatpacking and poultry processing, or working with a chilled product or in a cold environment, in combination with any one of the above risk factors may also increase the potential for MSDs to develop.

Vibration. Effects of vibration can damage the body and possibly increase the force which must be exerted for a task. Hand/arm vibration can injure small capillaries responsible for supplying nutrients and can make hand tools more difficult to control. Hand/arm vibration may also cause a worker to lose feeling in the hands and arms, similar to loss of control when wearing gloves, resulting in increased force exertion to control hand-powered tools.

Helping Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders

It’s important to educate yourself and your employees 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.


It’s easy to look at ergonomics as an expensive endeavor. 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 costlier down the line, when weighed against the costs for sick time, short- or long-term disability, and insurance premiums. In other words, ergonomics for your employees is an investment, not an expense.

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