What Are Musculoskeletal Disorders?
Musculoskeletal disorders include a group of conditions that involve the nerves, tendons, muscles, and supporting structures such as intervertebral discs. They represent a wide range of disorders, which can differ in severity from mild periodic symptoms to severe chronic and debilitating conditions. Examples include carpal tunnel syndrome, tenosynovitis, tension neck syndrome, and low back pain.
What Are Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSD)?
Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders are musculoskeletal disorders caused or made worse by the work environment. WMSDs can cause severe and debilitating symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling; reduced worker productivity; lost time from work; temporary or permanent disability; inability to perform job tasks; and an increase in workers compensation costs. Musculoskeletal disorders are often confused with ergonomics. Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of workers. In other words, musculoskeletal disorders are the problem and ergonomics is a solution.
What Are the Risk Factors for WMSDs?
Repetitive, forceful, or prolonged exertions of the hands; frequent or heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying of heavy objects; prolonged awkward postures; and vibration contribute to WMSDs. Jobs or working conditions that combine risk factors will increase the risk for musculoskeletal problems. The level of risk depends on how long a worker is exposed to these conditions, how often they are exposed, and the level of exposure.
Musculoskeletal disorders of any cause are among the most prevalent medical problems, affecting 7% of the population and accounting for 14% of physician visits and 19% of hospital stays. When looking specifically at work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 1995, 62% (308,000) of all illness cases were due to disorders associated with repeated trauma. This figure does not include back injuries. BLS also reports that the number of cases of repeated trauma has increased significantly, rising from 23,800 cases in 1972 to 332,000 cases in 1994-a fourteenfold increase. In 1995 the number of cases decreased by 7% to 308,000 reported cases, but this number still exceeds the number of cases in any year prior to 1994. When looking specifically at cases involving days away from work, for which more detailed information is available, BLS reports that in 1994, approximately 32% or 705,800 cases were the result of overexertion or repetitive motion. This figure includes back injuries.