Commonly referred to as WMSDs, work-related musculoskeletal disorders are defined as any disorder in the muscles, tendons, intervertebral discs or nerves caused by overexertion in the workplace, whatever type of setting that may be. Some of the most common examples include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and tension neck/back syndrome. The first step in preventing these is understanding the root causes.
It’s important to note that trauma or injuries to the hands, neck/back, muscles, or tendons are not considered WMSDs, and refer more to acute or gradual injuries developed over periods of time within the musculoskeletal system. I will touch on that in my next blog. That being said, repetitive work activities such as typing on a desktop keyboard, prolonged sitting, or repetitive lifting of heavy objects often lead to the development of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, which can affect the neck and upper extremities or the back, and lower extremities as well.
Any bodily movements such as gripping, reaching, stretching or twisting can lead to WMSDs through constant repetition. Work-related repetitive bending, stopping, twisting, carrying, squatting, or crawling can lead to WMSDs as well. Aside from overexertion, a constraining position can cause pain and injuries over time, such as prolonged sitting or standing. The physical reason as to why these injuries develop comes down to whatever part of the body is being overused, those being the muscles, tendons, or nerves beyond the tissues physiologic capacity or conditioning.
- Muscle injuries are often caused by too much contraction. When they contract, they use sugars and lactic acids to recover, but if this is not done quickly enough, or if it is prevented through little to no breaks, this buildup causes irritation and pain. This then predisposes one to a greater, more traumatic event.
- Tendon injuries mainly have to do with the body’s sheaths, or the areas in which tendons slide, mainly found in the hands and wrists, but also shoulders, hips, and knees. The insides of these sheathes produce fluids to allow for lubrication of the tendons, but overuse can lead to less being produced, leading to inflammation or swelling in that given area.
- Nerve injuries occur to those embedded in muscles and near intervertebral spinal discs. The tissues around these nerves can swell with repetitive motion, which compresses the nerves. A sensation of “pins and needles” is the first sign of nerve compression, but more extreme cases can lead to radiating pain, numbness, and muscle weakness.
Treating these injuries is not typically difficult, but more extreme cases may require surgery. Should an injury you’ve sustained be minor, try to restrict movement of that muscle or tendon. A splint or immobilizing piece of gear can help, but should be used with caution. Apply a cold compress to soothe any inflammation within the first 24 hours or a hot compress to relieve pain after 24 hours, especially if you supplement with over the counter anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID). Heat increases blood flow, thus facilitating the breakdown of lactic acid buildup in the muscles, as well as drawing the medication to the affected area through increased circulation.
Exercise and physical therapy can help as well, as this promotes the circulation of muscles, reducing tension. Always consult your doctor or physical therapist beforehand though, as improper techniques can easily worsen the injury or cause even more damage.
Look next for my blog on workplace trauma and injuries next!