Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) include disorders and injuries involving muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and joints, collectively known as the Musculoskeletal System. This is essentially Movement Central for the human body; it helps us move, work and do any kind of physical activity. It is a complex system with more than 200 bones, 400 muscles and joints, over 800 ligaments and miles of nerves and blood vessels. And all these parts must work well together for workers to be productive and fulfill the tasks required by their job, whether the job requires sitting, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, typing, standing and a combination of any of these activities.
Too often, unfortunately, things don’t work well and painful MSDs develop. Aching backs, sore wrists, stiff joints, and strained shoulders are common MSDs among employees in every organization. They are highly prevalent and one of the main causes of activity limitation, affecting productivity, leisure time and overall quality of life. Low back pain is the most common MSD, with an estimated 80% of people reporting that they have experienced low back pain at some point in their lifetime. Approximately 20% of people are experiencing low back pain at any given time.
Musculoskeletal Disorders are among the top 5 categories driving health claims and a significant burden for employers. There are more than 200 conditions that cause musculoskeletal pain and result in some form of functional impairment and excessive preventable employer costs. Furthermore, they are widely prevalent in all workplaces, whether, professional, office type of work or blue-collar, physical type of occupations. Research places the cost of MSDs in Canada at $16.4 billion. MSDs had a staggering $50 billion price tag for companies in the U.S. in 2011 with an estimate of 5 times that amount when factoring in indirect costs. Additionally, MSDs account for almost 33% of all workers’ compensation costs.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has identified low back pain, neck pain, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome as the top issues in musculoskeletal health. A report from Johns Hopkins University in 2012 stated that the cost of chronic pain in the U.S. can be attributed primarily to the low back and neck pain and cost employers as much as $635 billion a year. This was more than the annual cost for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined.
MSDs are also a major driver of absenteeism costs, with European and U.S. estimates that MSDs account for nearly 50% of all absences from work lasting 3 days or longer and 60% of permanent work incapacity. The European Agency for Work Safety and Health reported that MSDs were the most common work-related health problem in Europe. And the American Pain Society in 2012 estimated that the cost of lost productivity to companies due to musculoskeletal pain was estimated to range between $299 and $335 billion per year.
Individual health risk factors such as inactivity and obesity contribute to the rising cost of MSDs. Research published by the American Medical Association demonstrated that the number of lost workdays and worker’s compensation claim costs were greatly increased with the level of obesity of employees. When comparing the study’s heaviest participants and those of recommended weight, obese employees had almost 13 times more lost workdays, 7 times higher medical claim costs and 11 times higher indemnity costs.
The most cost-effective way to address MSDs is to prevent them before they become chronic. That’s what the Evexia Musculoskeletal Disorders prevention program does. It starts upstream, identifies risks and offers resources to help resolve problems before they become chronic. There are 2 sides to MSD development: the Work and the Worker. While there are many occupational health and safety requirements, policies and guidelines governing work design and ensuring a workplace free of hazards, there is less attention focused on wellness and helping workers help themselves.
So it is not difficult to understand why MSDs occur so frequently when we consider the prevalence of overweight, unfit and generally unhealthy employees. Research shows that 6 out of 10 workers carry excess weight and 3 out of 10 are obese. And unfortunately, the current workplace demographics paints a picture of a generation of aging employees who are increasingly physically de-conditioned and a younger generation of employees who show significant signs of poor health at an earlier age due to sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition, and obesity.
There are 5 components to the Evexia Musculoskeletal Disorders prevention program that has been tested and shown to be effective.
Corporate wellness programs to assist employees to lose weight and eat healthier are also included, as well as educational sessions to raise awareness about the importance of exercise, strength and a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, educational sessions and information aimed at changing attitudes and beliefs about musculoskeletal pain are critical in successful MSD prevention programs. We have demonstrated for example, that the best way to treat chronic back pain is to move. In other words, exercise should be embraced rather than avoided.
In summary, the economic burden of MSDs for employers is considerable and widely prevalent in workplaces globally. The most cost-effective way to address this problem is through a Musculoskeletal Disorders Prevention Program, that includes appropriate assessments at baseline, using a Health Risk Assessment with a musculoskeletal component, exercise to strengthen and stretch muscles, healthy eating, education and a healthy lifestyle that promotes wellness and vitality.