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What Should I Know about Musculoskeletal Disorders at Work?  

January 3, 2022

The thought of work-related injuries can make you imagine pictures of falling off a scaffold or a heavy package falling from a high shelf and hitting a worker on the head, but some of the most common kinds develop over time. The category of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) accounts for close to 30 percent of all workers’ compensation claims, and although usually not immediately life-threatening, these kinds of injuries can lead to significant time taken off from work and temporary or permanent disabilities. These disorders can happen at any age, and affect the bones, muscles, joints, and spine. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses the term work-related MSD to refer to conditions in which work environments and work performance contribute significantly to a worker’s injury. Not only do these kinds of injuries hurt employees, but also they can adversely impact company productivity and lead to increased overall disability and workers’ compensation and health care costs. The reported incidence rate of workplace MSD cases was about 27 percent for every 10,000 full-time workers.

What Is a Musculoskeletal Disorder?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics posts that MSDs are injuries and illness that can result from repetitive motion or overexertion. Symptoms of these chronic diseases may include persistent pain, weakness, and stiffness; inflammation of the overlying skin area; joint deformity or noises, such as popping or clicking in the joints; and a limited range or motion and decreased dexterity and function. Examples of MSDs include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Epicondylitis
  • Trigger finger
  • Muscle strains and low back injuries
  • Low back injuries
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Herniated disks
  • Epicondylitis


The main cause of MSDs is continued exposure to risk factors that fatigue the body’s recovery system and result in musculoskeletal imbalance. Some individuals are at higher risk because of their health; they may have underlying conditions or simply do not take care of themselves. These disorders can eventually develop into cumulative trauma disorders, which are basically long-term musculoskeletal problems. That is why it is so important to see a doctor right away if you have symptoms; when MSDs are treated earlier, the prognosis can be better. Continuing to work while in pain will likely exacerbate an injury, leading to more involved treatment and lost time from work.

How Do MSDs Develop?

Poor posture is known to cause MSDs because it imposes excess force on a person’s joints, overloading the tendons and muscles. When joints are being worked out of their optimum mid-range motions repetitively, they do not have time to recover from the imbalance. This is commonly seen in employees who spend long hours on their feet or sitting at desks. Workplace ergonomics are a big part of this; if a workstation has an old, uncomfortable chair, a poorly aligned mouse and computer, or the person does not take enough breaks, their posture can be bad enough to cause injuries. This applies to long-haul truck drivers who spend countless hours sitting in the same position. Repetitive tasks such as typing all day, repairing bikes, scanning in products, and working a cash register can also contribute to MSDs such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Construction workers, warehouse employees, and many others who are more active during their workdays are also exposed to MSD risk factors. Anyone who frequently carries heavy loads, stretches to work overhead, twists their wrists and hands while working, and is constantly bending over may become injured. Always working with tools, especially ones that vibrate, can also cause problems.

Knee and shoulder MSDs are also problematic and can present with significant pain and loss of function. An employee who frequently walks around a jobsite or warehouse often experience tendinitis of the knees; this is when the small sacs of fluid between the bones and tendons, called bursae, become swollen, stiff, and inflamed. Overworking your shoulders can result in bursitis, affecting the shoulder bursae; rotator cuff tears; and tendinitis. Your neck can also get injured if you bend it the wrong way once or repeatedly, which can tear ligaments and lead to sprains. Epicondylitis, also called tennis elbow, is when forceful twisting motions strain the elbow tendons.

Workplace and Personal MSD Risk Factors

Pushing, pulling, lifting, using tools and machinery, and repetitive motions can all contribute to MSD injuries, and studies have shown that those factors cause workers’ knees, shoulders, hands, and lower back injuries; these repetitive tasks are all carried out in retail company stock rooms and warehouses. Contractors and construction workers are exposed to MSD risks when they carry heavy equipment, use repetitive motions with tools and machinery, and work in tight and/or awkward positions. It was also found that the second-highest reason for restaurant worker injuries on the premises was injuries and strains from carrying and holding items.

Musculoskeletal disorders may be more likely to occur to employees who are not vigilant about their health. Not exercising regularly can reduce mobility and increase stiffness; it can also contribute to poor posture. Bad posture when lifting heavy things can also cause injuries; many people do not know that items should be lifted with strength from the legs, not the back. Frequent stretching, getting enough rest, and a balanced diet can also help with muscle and bone strength, decreasing the chances for straining muscles while working. Smoking, obesity, and a lack of muscle strength are also detrimental for one’s overall health and increases the likelihood of workplace injuries. An employee’s underlying conditions such as diabetes, lupus, and arthritis can also be seen as non-occupational risk factors, as can age, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status.

How Can My Employer Reduce MSD Risk Factors?

Employees who spend their days at workstations can benefit when their employers take steps to improve ergonomics. This could include getting new ergonomic chairs and setting up training that focuses on good posture and workplace practices. Some companies have changed how parts, products, and materials are transported; to cut back on heavy carrying and load lifting tasks, they use mechanical assist devices. Revamping a workplace layout can also help; providing easier access for forklifts, keeping tools within shorter reaching distances, and having height-adjustable desks and workbenches are a few good ideas to start with.

Administrative controls such as scheduling breaks into worker schedules, rotating employees for work that is physically demanding, and shortening shift lengths can also lessen the risks for MSDs. Employees should also be required to wear their personal protective equipment when safety protocols mandate it; many avoid doing so because they do not have access to the equipment, are not trained, or just do not feel like putting it on. Equipment such as back belts, braces, safety boots, and work gloves can also protect workers from MSDs. 

Your employer might be able to take steps that could decrease the risks for MSDs at your workplace, so it might be wise to discuss this with a supervisor. Sometimes they will be receptive to the idea, but other times you can encounter resistance if they think that making the changes will be too expensive or time-consuming. You might want to see of any of your coworkers feel the same way before broaching the topic with a manager, as this could give you some leverage. If you are experiencing MSD symptoms and they are getting worse, do not brush them aside in hopes that they will improve. Remember, continuing to work with an injury will probably make things a lot worse.

Cherry Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP, Help Employees with Musculoskeletal Disorders

Many employers and insurance companies will balk about covering musculoskeletal disorders because the symptoms are not always obvious, but if your injury is work related, you may be entitled to compensation. The Cherry Hill workers’ compensation lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP, can offer experienced guidance and will fight to protect your  rights. Call us today at 856-761-3773 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients in Camden, Cinnaminson, Delran, Maple Shade, Pennsauken, and throughout South Jersey.


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