What are Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Musculoskeletal disorders are caused or aggravated by repetitive motions, forceful exertions, vibration, mechanical compression (hard and sharp edges), and sustained or awkward postures that occur over extended periods of time. MSDs can affect nearly all tissues, the nerves, tendons, tendon sheaths, and muscles, with the upper extremities being the most frequently affected. These injuries range from disorders of the back, the neck, the arms and legs, or the shoulders and involve strains, sprains, or tissue inflammation, and dislocation.

Workers suffering from MSDs may experience less strength for gripping, less range of motion, loss of muscle function, and inability to do everyday tasks. These painful and sometimes crippling injuries develop gradually over periods of weeks, months, and years as the result of the repeated actions required to perform their jobs.

Awareness is the key to preventing serious MSD injuries. It is important for employers and employees alike to know the signs and symptoms of MSDs. These signs and symptoms are often ignored, because they seem slight at first and go away when the employee is not at work. However, as time goes on, the symptoms increase and last longer until finally it’s impossible to perform simple tasks such as holding a drinking glass or keyboarding. Early intervention is essential to recovery.

That’s why it’s important to train employees about MSD signs and symptoms and encourage them to report symptoms as soon as they become aware of them. They also need to understand what may happen if they continue to perform their regular job and don’t report the symptoms. Early reporting is essential to lessen the severity of the injury. The longer warning signs are ignored, the more damage is done, the longer recovery takes, and in some cases, the damage can’t be repaired.

Signs and Symptoms

The presence of MSD signs and/or symptoms is usually the first indication that an employee may be developing an MSD. The signs are objective physical findings that an MSD may be developing. The symptoms, on the other hand, are physical indications that an employee may be developing an MSD.

Symptoms can vary in severity, depending on the amount of exposure to MSD hazards and often appear gradually, for example, as muscle fatigue or pain at work that disappears during rest. Usually symptoms become more severe as exposure continues. If the employee continues to be exposed, symptoms may increase to the point that they interfere with performing the job. Finally, pain may become so severe that the employee is unable to perform physical work activities).

Signs that may indicate an MSD include deformity, decreased grip strength, decreased range of motion, and loss of function. Common symptoms of MSDs include:

  • Painful joints,

  • Pain, tingling, or numbness in the hands or feet,

  • Shooting or stabbing pains in the arms or legs,

  • Swelling or inflammation,

  • Burning sensation,

  • Pain in wrists, shoulders, forearms, or knees,

  • Fingers or toes turning white,

  • Back or neck pain, and

  • Stiffness.

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