Many office workers complain about having neck and back pain because of sitting down all day, and so do workers in other industries who are constantly in awkward and stressful positions. It is only normal to experience pain and discomfort when body positions are held for a long time, but a number of factors can lead to more severe pain and ultimately, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs).
Musculoskeletal disorders are commonly associated with age, and while our risk for developing the disorder truly heightens as we get older, young people aren’t invulnerable to them, especially those who put a lot of strain in their bodies.
Physiotherapy is a common treatment for WMSDs and all other musculoskeletal pains and disorders. Singapore, among many more countries, offers high-quality physiotherapy and podiatry services for people of any age.
What is a Musculoskeletal Disorder?
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are conditions in the musculoskeletal system that affect the muscles, bones, and joints. Severe pain in the back, neck, shoulders, wrists, hips, legs, and feet are common indicators of MSDs. Common MSDs include tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
Musculoskeletal Conditions Statistics
According to the World Health Organization, musculoskeletal conditions are the top contributor to disability worldwide. Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability around the world. Musculoskeletal conditions are highly common, with between 1 in 3 and 1 in 5 people, including children, suffering from it. These conditions heighten one’s risk for contracting other chronic health conditions and are also commonly linked to depression.
Physical Factors Associated With WMSDs
- Work postures and movements, and their repetitiveness and pace
- Force of movement
- Increased pressure to exceed expectations at work
- Monotonous tasks
- Workplace conditions (e.g. poor workstation layout)
- Speed of work
- Frequent handling of heavy objects
Psychosocial factors can also be associated with WMSDs, such as lack of communication, lack of control over a job, and lack of support from supervisors/managers, to name a few. Both physical and psychosocial factors are important to be addressed to minimise the risk of young workers developing WMSDs.
As mentioned, body positions repetitively held for a long time can potentially lead to severe pain and WMSDs. This is because the joints involved don’t get enough time to recover after the movement. The faster the pace of the task, the higher the risk for WMSDs becomes. Similarly, the force of movement, such as lifting heavy objects repetitively, also robs our body’s time to recover. This develops fatigue much faster, elevating the risk for WMSDs.
Workers who use handheld power tools and other vibrating equipment and machinery are at risk as well because vibration can cause numbness to the fingers, leading to pain and reduced touch and grip. Furthermore, some power tools may be harder to control, forcing one’s body to adopt an awkward or stressful position.
Lastly, the temperature is a risk factor because numbness may also occur from touching cold materials. On the other hand, exposure to extreme heat and humidity can cause fatigue more quickly, rendering workers susceptible to pain and injury.
Symptoms, and Diagnosis
Aside from pain, people who have developed a musculoskeletal condition may also experience the following:
- Weakening of muscles
- Muscle atrophy
- Unusual reflexes
You should see a doctor once you experience any of these symptoms. Your doctor will test your condition through a physical exam, reflex test, and if needed, an MRI scan or X-ray and blood tests may also be performed.
Healthy habits including regular exercise help prevent MSDs. At work, stretching at regular intervals, improving your posture, lifting heavy objects with caution, and reducing repetitive motions can lower your risk of developing WMSDs.
Communicating the risks and symptoms with your manager or supervisors can also help. That way, both of you can come up with a new work strategy that can minimise body pains. To determine what set of healthy habits is right for you, consult your doctor right away.