Northern Safety & Industrial

The Effects of Work on the Body

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are a leading cause of workplace injury and cost billions each year in workers’ compensation and lost productivity. MSDs affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons. Carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, thoracic outlet syndrome, and tension neck syndrome are just a few examples.

Causes of MSDs can vary, but are often contributed to fixed or constrained body movements, continual movement repetition, working in awkward positions, force concentrated on small parts of the body such as wrists or hands, or working at a pace that does not allow for recovery between movements. To avoid MSDs and the possibility of a lifetime of pain, here are some tips on prevention, recognizing the symptoms of MSDs, and treatment.

  • Prevention. Implementing an ergonomics program can play a huge role in the prevention of MSDs. Changing workstation layouts and the way materials, parts, and products are transported could take the burden of lifting overly heavy loads and unnecessary movements off of the workers. Other ways to fight MSDs include reducing shift lengths and overtime, scheduling more breaks, rotating workers through physically tiring jobs, and implementing training to recognize risk factors and ease task demands. Personal protective equipment (PPE) provides workers with a barrier between themselves and work hazards. The effectiveness of PPE, such as braces, wrist splints, and back belts varies, yet in certain situations they can reduce intensity of exposure.
  • Stages of MSDs. While not everyone will experience MSD symptoms exactly the same, any new or unusual pains should be the first sign that something is wrong. Typically, any pain should be your cue to let the muscles relax and recover. Symptoms occurring during the early stage MSDs often take place during work but disappear at night or during days off, and the worker will experience only aching and tiredness. At the intermediate stage, the aching and tiredness begin early on in the work shift and last well into the night. In the late stages, aching, fatigue, and weakness persist while resting just as much and they do while working.
  • Treatment. There are a few different ways to treat MSDs and prevent them from getting worse. Evaluate if the task is being performed properly and what adjustments need to be made to reduce injury. A physician may recommend the application of heat or cold to minimizing pain and fast-tracking the repair process–cold reduces pain and swelling and is recommended for injuries and inflammation, while heat is recommended for muscle pain relief. Stretching promotes circulation and reduces muscle tension.
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