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MSDs, Preventive Health and You: Part I, Musculoskeletal Disorders—The Other Chronic Condition
By Jessie Hochhalter - May 21, 2010

MSDs, or musculoskeletal disorders, affect the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves—essentially, the entire body. Symptoms include back, neck and shoulder pain, weakness, numbness, stiffness, swelling, cramping, tingling.¹ Not only do they affect the entire body, they are among the most common of human afflictions and one of the leading causes of workplace absence.²   According to OSHA, MSDs represent 62 percent of all workers’ compensation claims and result in nearly $20 billion in lost work time and workers’ compensation costs every year. So why aren’t we concerned?

It might be because MSDs tend to be the result of cumulative and minute strains on the body over time—out of sight; out of mind … that is, until the small discomfort becomes a burgeoning disorder. It might also be that MSDs have taken a back seat to other, more publicized chronic conditions: obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer. These afflictions are (and should be) of serious concern, but not at the expense of the equally prevalent and costly MSDs.

MSDs are often overlooked because they creep up slowly and don’t bite as hard. The problem is, once they bite, they don’t let go. They are caused by repetitive motion over time and, although a major pain, they don’t kill you.

But what doesn’t kill you doesn’t always make you stronger. MSDs are robbing working people of their health and vitality, thereby robbing companies of productive and present employees.   Because MSDs are not as pointedly catastrophic, but rather sneak up and cost you in more elusive ways, the hazards often are ignored until it is too late. But even before repetitive strains and bad working mechanics become full-blown disorders, these practices contribute to fatigue and discomfort, a decrease in productivity, turnover and absenteeism—not to mention the costs associated with treatment and workers’ compensation claims when MSDs fully manifest.

In a study done by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, back/neck pain was found to be one of the top five most costly conditions for employers—not only in medical/pharmaceutical bills, but also in productivity loss and absenteeism. In fact, for every dollar spent on medical and pharmaceutical costs, $2.30 is lost due to decreased productivity and absenteeism.³

According to another recent study done in Europe, MSDs were determined to be the leading cause of absence from work (accounting for 49 percent of all absences and 60 percent of permanent work incapacity). ¹

To make matters worse, MSDs become more prevalent with age, and as the workforce is getting older and retirement is being deferred, MSD prevention measures will have to be taken across the board. We can no longer afford to ignore the causes of MSDs like we once did with obesity, cholesterol, diabetes and other highly preventable chronic conditions.

The good news is that MSDs are very closely linked with working environments, equipment and behavior—and small changes can make all the difference. Remember that injuries often are preceded by discomfort and can be easily prevented; actively monitoring environment, habits and warning signs can thwart workplace injuries.

To recap, MSDs are costly, painful, chronic…and no big deal. Wrong! MSDs, along with the previously mentioned chronic conditions, are the target of governments and organizations around the world. In Europe, MSDs already are an integral piece of the Lisbon strategy, the Community Strategy on Occupational Safety and Health, the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work and in many other pieces of EU legislation. 4

In the next installment of “MSDs, Preventive Health and You,” I will discuss why preventive health is so important, and how the U.S. government thinks it could be the solution to America’s ever-increasing healthcare costs.





Jessie Hochhalter is a team member and ergonomics advocate at Omega Health Systems (OHS). Email address:, phone number 866 966-3420 ext. 102. 


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