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Invisible pain: Spotting musculoskeletal disorders

December 6, 2018
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Musculoskeletal disorders sound serious, so you might expect to see them most in physically demanding workplaces like construction sites and warehouses. But that’s not always the case.

“Clerical and professional trades, auto service and repair centers, and nursing homes are the hot spots for these disorders,” says Kevin Simonton, Pinnacol’s professional ergonomist. According to Pinnacol’s 2011-2017 data, these three industries have the most claims related to musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs.

An employee’s MSD risk varies significantly according to his or her position and industry. There are, however, four general risk factors that apply across the board. Simonton shares them below, in no particular order:

  • Repetition: Performing the same motions repeatedly using the same muscle groups over a long period can lead to a musculoskeletal disorder.
  • Force: Force is the amount of effort the muscles exert to lift an item, hold onto a tool, or maintain the body in a certain posture.  Force can be further categorized into static or dynamic force. Static force involves little or no movement of the body but still requires muscle exertion to maintain a grip on a tool or hold the body in a certain posture as a task is performed.  Dynamic force involves body movement where muscles are actively contracting and relaxing.  For example, when an employee grasps a machine part from an assembly line and places it into a box.
  • Awkward Postures: Movement and postures that deviate significantly from the neutral posture increase muscle tension and loading on joints, tendons, and ligaments.
  • Lack of Rest/Recovery: Lack of muscle recovery increases the risk of fatigue and overuse. Over time, this can exceed soft tissue tolerance, causing tissue damage.  

“These factors can create soft tissue pain, soreness, numbness, tingling, or burning in a given area,” Simonton explains. “Workers should be concerned if the symptoms increase as the work day or week progresses and does not go away after a weekend of rest.”

Simonton suggests that workers approach management as soon as they notice these red flags. They should discuss their concerns regarding the task and work with their supervisors to address the issues of repetition, force, awkward postures, and lack of recovery opportunities.

He also recommends that employers work with a certified ergonomics consultant who is trained to identify risk factors and methods for modifying the job.

Pinnacol Assurance assumes no responsibility for management or control of customer safety activities. Please ensure your business meets the requirements of all federal, state, and local laws, regulations, or ordinances related to workplace safety.

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