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The Importance of Psychosocial Risk Factors in Terms of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

To enjoy musculoskeletal health it must be taken into account that some contributing factors such as strong muscles, sturdy bones, a healthy nervous system, and good mental health play a key role. As we know, some risk factors like bone fractures, sprains, poor posture, and joint dislocation lead to musculoskeletal conditions which can be extremely painful and debilitating.

Musculoskeletal conditions have major impacts on physical and mental health such as disability, obesity, depression, fatigue, and metabolic syndromes.

Some work-related factors can also lead to musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs. Repetitive movements or prolonged sitting are some of the more common examples of work-related reasons that result in injuries. However, as with many other conditions and illnesses, psychological pressure and disorders are major contributing risk factors even in work-related injuries. Workload, working hours, work-rest cycles, workplace culture, management style,  job control, and social support are examples of these psychosocial factors at work. As the psychological elements playing a role in any setting are manyfold and very much related to the individual (meaning that they have a defining subjective aspect to them) there is no specific definition of work-related psychosocial risk factors. A similar description is provided by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) in which they stated that psychosocial risks stem from suboptimal working conditions which include both elements of the working environment and the workplace social context and mechanisms, leading to negative impacts on one’s psyche that would manifest as disorders such as stress and depression.

Psychosocial factors affect the development of MSDs in two ways. Firstly, they affect one’s physic and change the way one holds oneself. Secondly, psychosocial factors have a direct pathway to MSDs through their manifestation of stress symptoms. Stress creates physiological responses described as “fight and flight response” causing reactions such as dilation of the pupils, increased heart rate, and releasing adrenaline and cortisol in the bloodstream. The general stress response can be sub-divided into two categories which are positive and negative. In case of a positive stress response, we believe we can accomplish challenges that result in a general sense of engagement, determination, and interest; conversely, in a negative stress response, we believe we cannot accomplish set goals which can cause feelings such as uncertainty, disinterest, boredom, and anxiety.

So, work-related psychosocial factors can lead to stress responses similar to one’s response in the face of a perceived threat to one’s survival evoking physiological responses that may cause MSDs in long term. Some examples of physiological changes associated with stress which heighten the risk of MSDs are as follows:

  • Increased blood pressure: could lead to increased pressure in the joints specifically on tendons, ligaments, and nerves.
  • Increased fluid pressure: increased pressure may be placed on joints, tendons, ligaments, and nerves.
  • Reduction of growth functions: leads to a reduced ability for the body to heal or recover after performing work-related activities.
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain: workers may work beyond and above their body’s physical capacity.
  • Dilation of pupils: leads to increased sensitivity to light.
  • Increase in muscle tension: Causes an increase in pressure on and around joints, tendons, ligaments, and nerves which could lead to excessive use of force during certain activities and movements.
  • The body remains at a heightened state of sensitivity: the person may overburden their musculoskeletal system by lifting more, working faster, etc.
  • Increased tone in muscles: could lead to strain or make muscles easily fatigued.

Prolonged stress can damage different organs and impair their repair processes which would lead to chronic MSDs.

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