Bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, intervertebral discs and their associated nerves and blood vessels make up the musculoskeletal system. This system is powered by a complex interrelationship between all these structures and for proper functioning each of these is dependent on the other. When we talk about musculoskeletal injuries, it could be an umbrella term for a number of conditions affecting the balance between these separate structures. Such disorders can affect joints, synovium, muscles, tendons, soft tissues, connective tissues, spinal discs or any other related tissues or vertebrae.
When such conditions are made worse due to work situations or if the work environment, work performance contributes significantly to the condition persisting longer, then these are termed as work related musculoskeletal injuries. These could be in the form of sprains, strains, tears, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome,tendonitis, thoracic outlet syndrome, tension neck syndrome or hernia. Slips, trips, falls or similar incidents are not included in this category. These disorders of the musculoskeletal system develop gradually over a period of time from prolonged exposure to work patterns like fixed or constrained body positions, continual repetition of movements, action concentrated on small parts of the body, such as the hand or wrist or a work pace that doesn’t allow adequate recovery between movements or positions.
The effect of work-related musculoskeletal disorders can be quite severe as the workers may no longer be able to work or perform simple personal duties and activities of everyday living. Unlike the nonfatal injury or illness, such disorders take a toll on the employers as well because of low productivity levels, absenteeism, compensation costs or increased health care even. From minor discomfort to career-ending disorders, the onset of the symptoms could even occur as early as six months from beginning of employment to 72% incidence after 10 years of employment.
The most common symptom of work-related musculoskeletal disorders is pain combined with joint stiffness, redness, swelling, muscle tightness, numbness or even tingling. The first occurrence of pain is a signal that the muscles and tendons need to rest and recover. Otherwise, these injuries can become longstanding or irreversible even. Early reporting of symptoms and efforts to prevent injuries is important as the worker often returns to the same work environment that caused the initial injury. Restricted or lost work time is often reported as the top cause of musculoskeletal disorders that result from work activities.
The rising significance of Musculoskeletal injuries due to the prevalence of stressful lifestyles, crazy work schedules, ergonomically lacking work environments, unhealthy work practices and so on, these disorders have plenty of other names like Repetitive motion injuries, Repetitive strain injuries, Cumulative trauma disorders, Occupational cervicobrachial disorders, Overuse syndrome, Regional musculoskeletal disorders or Soft tissue disorders.These terminologiesdon’t actually describe the disorders rightly though. The term “repetitive strain injuries” implies that repetition causes these disorders, but awkward postures are also a contributor.Workplace ergonomics can go a long way in preventing musculoskeletal disorders as the goal of this is to reduce stress and eliminate injuries that are associated with the overuse of muscles, bad posture, and repeated tasks.
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