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Musculoskeletal Disorders from Poor Ergonomic Practices

Thursday, September 30, 2010
By Anne Kramer

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) are defined as “a group of illnesses associated with ongoing damage to soft tissues.” They can be caused by, or concurrent with, other maladies brought on by repetitive motion including Repetitive Motion Injuries (RMIs), Repetitive Stress/Strain Injuries (RSIs), and Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTDs). Left untreated, these disorders can limit your motion or ability to perform certain routine tasks, even permanently.

The understanding of MSDs is important to the ergonomically-concerned because oftentimes, these illnesses are brought about by the repetitive motions that compensate for poor ergonomic practices on a daily basis. Recognizing the symptoms of MSDs can help to stop the progression of a potential problem in its tracks, and even reverse the damage(s) done by incorrect repetitive motion. Still other times, MSDs are caused by a “one-time” injury, which may or may not have been prevented by heeding correct ergonomic practices.

Causes of Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal pain can be caused by damage to bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bursae, or nerves. As this is the case, it is important to pay attention to any and all activities which may damage these body parts, either immediately, or over time. The most common causes of MSDs in the workplace are:
  • Improper Posture
  • Poor Seating
  • Typing Incorrectly
  • Incorrect Lifting
Paying attention to how to perform these routine tasks, including researching the correct (from an ergonomic standpoint) method of performing each, can go a long way toward preventing serious MSDs in the future.

Symptoms of Musculoskeletal Disorders

The single-most prevalent symptom of an MSD is pain. This can be mild or severe, either local or diffuse, but is usually present in one of the following three areas of the body:
  • Bones: Bone pain, while difficult for most to recognize, can be especially severe. It is usually described as “deep” or “penetrating,” and can cause aches all over the body. As far as MSDs go, it is usually the result of a direct injury.
  • Muscles: Muscle pain, while typically less intense than bone pain, can still be quite unpleasant. Pain experienced in a particular muscle group is generally easy to pinpoint. When resulting from an MSD, muscle pain is usually caused by assuming an aggravating position, such as poor posture.
  • Tendon/Ligament: Associated with concurrent disorders such as tendonitis, tendon and ligament pain is usually the result of a repetitive stress injury, such as incorrect typing. It is easily recognized because it is most intense when the motion is repeated, or when stretching the tendon.


*If you suspect you have a MSD, see your doctor. Only he/she is qualified to treat your condition.*

The easiest way to treat the symptoms of a suspected MSD is to stop the motion you suspect to be causing your problem. If on the other hand, your symptoms are the result of a direct injury, there are a number of steps you can take to alleviate your pain, such as:
  • The alternating application of hot and cold packs
  • Pain medication
  • Massage and gentle motion of the affected area
  • Exercise
MSDs are no joke. Left untreated, they can cause serious permanent damage to your body. Using this article as a guide, assess your daily activities. Are there any which may, over time, cause stress to a particular part of your body? Do you participate in activities which put you at particular risk of injury? If yes, take the necessary steps to eliminate these dangers from your daily life – for your ergonomic health.

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