What Are Musculoskeletal Disorders at Work?

Muscle, tendon, and nerve pain disorders are “work-related musculoskeletal disorders” (WMSDs). WMSDs usually appear gradually and are brought on by overuse of the musculoskeletal system components. Some organizations, like the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, have accident-related traumatic injuries to the muscles, tendons, and nerves (acute traumas and fractures) in the definition of the WMSD group, while other authorities consider them independently.

posture habits at work

We’ll talk about the long-term injuries brought on by repetitive, regular occupational activities or activities involving awkward postures. These illnesses can be painful while working or at rest. Arms and hands are almost always used in work. Thus, the hands, wrists, elbows, neck, and shoulders are where most WMSD manifest. WMSD of the legs, hips, ankles, and feet can result from work involving the legs. Repetitive motions might also lead to back issues.

Do WMSDs Go by Other Names?

WMSDs are particularly challenging to define within the context of conventional disease classifications. These conditions go by a variety of names, including:

  • Repetition-related injuries
  • Injuries caused by repeated strain
  • Chronic traumatic stress disorders
  • Cervicobrachial problems in the workplace
  • Overuse illnesses
  • Localized musculoskeletal problems

Most of these names for WMSDs are inaccurate. For instance, the term “repetitive strain injuries” implies that repetition causes these conditions, yet awkward postures also play a part. Therefore, we stick with the more accurate phrase of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

What Are the WMSD Risk Factors?

Arm and hand motions such as bending, straightening, gripping, holding, twisting, clenching, and reaching can cause WMSDs. These typical movements are not particularly harmful in the routine tasks of daily life. They are dangerous in work settings due to their constant repetition, frequently done forcefully, and, most importantly, their speed and the short recovery periods between motions. Work patterns like these are linked to WMSDs:

  • Bodily positions that are fixed or limited
  • Constant, repetitive movements
  • Force focused on the wrist or hand
  • A work tempo that does not give enough time for rest in between movements

In general, these conditions rarely cause WMSD on their own. WMSDs frequently develop from the combination and interaction of these factors. The development of WMSD is also influenced by vibration, heat, and cold.


What Causes WMSDs?

WMSDs, also known as work-related musculoskeletal disorders, affect many people annually. There are many methods to treat WMSDs. The most common methods used to treat WMSDs go as follow:

  • Muscle Damage
  • Tendon damage
  • Nerve damage

Muscle Damage

Muscle contractions require chemical energy from sugars and produce waste products such as lactic acid, which the blood removes. Long-lasting muscular contractions decrease blood flow. As a result, the waste material the muscles create is not eliminated quickly enough, building up in the muscles. These irritant chemicals build up in the body, irritating muscles and producing discomfort. The length of the muscle contractions and the amount of time between activities determine the intensity of the pain.

Tendon Damage

Tendons, which connect muscles to bones, are made up of many bundles of fibre. Tendon diseases fall into one of two categories: those of tendons with coverings named sheaths, which are typically found in the hand and wrist and are associated with repeated or frequent occupational activities, and those without sheaths, which are usually seen around the shoulder, elbow, and forearm. The hand’s tendons are contained in sheaths and glide through them. Cells in the sheaths’ inner walls produce a slippery fluid to lubricate the tendon. The lubrication system may fail if the hand is moved repeatedly or excessively. It could create insufficient fluid or fluid with suboptimal lubricating properties. When the lubrication mechanism fails, unhealthy friction occurs, and the tendon and its sheath become inflamed and swollen. Fibrous tissue develops as a result of repeated inflammatory episodes. The tendon sheath becomes thicker due to the fibrous tissue, which restricts tendon movement. Tenosynovitis is the medical term for inflammation of the tendon sheath. When a tendon sheath is irritated, it may expand with lubricating fluid and form a swelling under the skin. The ganglion cyst is the term used to describe this condition. These lumps most commonly develop in the wrist. Damage to tendons without sheaths can result from awkward postures and repetitive movements. In fact, some of a tendon’s fibres may even rip apart under sustained tension. The tendon becomes thicker and bumpier because of inflammation. The usual name for tendon inflammation is “tendonitis.” Tendons occasionally pass through a small area between bones, as in the shoulder. A sac filled with lubricating fluid is inserted between the tendons and the bones to reduce friction. This sac is known as the bursa. With repeated friction, the bursa becomes inflamed. Bursitis is the term for bursa inflammation.

Nerve Damage

Nerves carry impulses from the brain that cause the muscles to contract. They also control bodily processes like sweating and salivation and transmit temperature, pain, and touch information from the body to the brain. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments cover the nerves. Suppose the tissues surrounding nerves swell with repeated movements and challenging postures. In that case, they may squeeze or compresses the nerves. Other symptoms may also develop, including dry skin and impaired limb blood flow.

Signs of WMSDs

The most prevalent symptom of WMSDs is pain. There may occasionally be redness, swelling, tightness in the muscles and joints, and joint stiffness. Additionally, some people may feel “pins and needles,” numbness, experience changes in the color of their skin, and have less hand perspiration. Mild to severe WMSDs can advance in stages.

Early stage: During the work, the affected limb has aches and fatigue that go away at night and on days off. No decline in work quality is observed.

Intermediate stage: Aches and fatigue start early in the workday and continue into the evening. Decreased ability to do repetitive tasks is observed.

Late stage: At rest, there is still pain, exhaustion, and weakness. The individual is unable to sleep or carry out simple tasks.


Not everyone experiences these phases in the same manner. In fact, it could be challenging to pinpoint precisely when one stage ends and the next one starts. The initial discomfort warns that the muscles and tendons need to rest and heal. Otherwise, the damage may worsen and occasionally become irreparable. People should react to symptoms as soon as they appear.

How can WMSDs be Recognized?

WMSD evaluation includes a look at workplace dangers. The evaluation procedure starts with a discussion about the individual’s occupation and includes a thorough breakdown of all the steps that make up an average workday. Each task carried out at work is considered, including its frequency, intensity, duration, and regularity. WMSDs can be definitively diagnosed by using laboratory and technological tests to identify nerve or muscle injury. Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV) are two tests. X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) offer images of tendons, ligaments, and muscles and enhance the accuracy of the diagnosis.

Treatment Methods for WMSDs

WMSDs, also known as work-related musculoskeletal disorders, affect many people annually. There are many methods to treat WMSDs. The most common methods used to treat WMSDs go as follow:

  • Limitations on movement
  • The use of heat or cold
  • Exercise
  • Medications
  • Surgery

Limitations on Movement

Avoiding the actions that caused the injury is the first step in treating WMSDs. Work limitations are frequently needed. In some circumstances, switching jobs should be taken into consideration. In addition, a splint can be used to limit motion or immobilize the afflicted joint. However, splint use in occupational settings calls for utmost caution. Splints have the potential to do more harm than good if misused. Splints are typically used for one of two purposes: to mechanically support a joint when the joint is subjected to an excessive load or to limit the movement of the injured joint. Splints shouldn’t be employed as a mechanical support for the joint in an occupational setting. The excessive load on the joint should be avoided in the first place. The work activity that produced the injury must be ceased or changed for the use of splints to immobilize an injured joint to be successful. If the harmful work is continued, the individual risks are hurting other joints that have to make up for the splinted one.

The Use of Heat or Cold

Applying heat or cold tends to reduce discomfort and accelerate healing. For wounds and inflammations (tissues that are swollen, red, hot, and inflamed), the use of cold is advised since it lowers pain and swelling. Ice is not recommended in case of muscle pain (spasms) since the cold temperature would cause the muscle to constrict even more. Ice should only be applied to sore muscles briefly after the damage. For the easing of muscle pain, heat is advised. The heat helps the removal of lactic acid buildup by increasing blood flow. However, heat is not recommended for injuries with substantial edema and inflammation.


Stretching is advantageous because it increases circulation and eases tension in the muscles. However, people with WMSDs should speak with a physical therapist before exercising. If not correctly planned, stretching or exercise regimens can worsen the damage.

Medications and Surgery

Anti-inflammatory medications help lessen inflammation and pain. If all other measures are unsuccessful, the doctor may try more complex therapies or surgery.

Last Word

Taking all these points into account, WMSDs affect the body’s soft tissue, like muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. This disorder may be caused by many different factors in the work environment. In this post, we have tried to provide you with comprehensive information regarding WMSDs.

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