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Musculoskeletal disorders

Otherwise known as MSDs, musculoskeletal disorders are injuries and disorders which have an adverse effect on the human body’s ability to move freely and impacts specifically on the recognized musculoskeletal system.

Key areas typically affected by a range of classic symptoms include muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs and blood vessels, whilst in terms of actual conditions acknowledged, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and various muscle /tendon strains are cited amongst the more commonplace.

MSDs are increasingly evident in today’s society (with an ageing population more susceptible/at risk of being diagnosed with an MSD)and the term itself can extend to take into account a myriad of minor physical disabilities which compromise the natural ranges of motion expected in numerous parts of the human body.

The severity of MSDs tends to vary and is essentially determined by the individual sufferer who lives with their particular diagnosed condition. Either way – and generally speaking – those who endure MSDs note that their quality of life is often hampered by the onset of the condition they suffer, impacting on many daily activities otherwise taken for granted.

If an MSD is diagnosed early enough there’s clinical evidence to suggest that the symptoms which present – and lead to the diagnosis – can be alleviated, whilst further (and associated) physical damage resulting from the original complaint can also be limited from the outset.

What the main types of Musculoskeletal disorder?

As we’ve already alluded to above, there are a host of possible musculoskeletal disorders which can strike someone down at any given time, yet it’s generally accepted that the neck, shoulders, wrists, back, hips, legs, knees and feet are the areas most prone to being on the receiving end of this sort of body blow.

It’s also worth noting that there are numerous parts of the body which comprise the musculoskeletal system, which effectively means that various other conditions can create the symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders. Although not exhaustive, the following are examples of some of the more recurrent conditions which come under the guise of MSDs;

  • Lower back pain
  • Gout
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Tendinitis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Polymyalgia Rheumatica
  • Lupus


While some of these health afflictions can manifest in mild circumstances, by comparison others can pre-empt life-altering levels of pain and permanent discomfort. By far the most common musculoskeletal disorder suffered by the general population here in the UK is lower back pain.

What factors contribute most in terms of being diagnosed with an MSD?

Musculoskeletal disorders have a propensity to arise courtesy of interactions with more physical elements, and are habitually linked with the advent of ergonomic (or biomechanical), psychological, individual differences (or social), and occupational factors by and large.

Beneath we’ve compiled a list of the 4 core components which have been identified as playing a crucial part in the process;

Ergonomic/Biomechanical – MSDs can be caused by biomechanical loads, which is the force that must be applied to do tasks, along with the duration of the force applied and the frequency with which tasks are performed.

Associated risk factors involve the maintaining of what’s described as a non-neutral, or awkward posture, yet particular concern is reserved for the combination of heavy load with repetition

Psychosocial – An increasing volume of clinical theories and practice have arrived at the growing conclusion that psychosocial factors are another cause of some MSDs. Researchers have found casual relationships between increased muscle tension, increased blood and fluid pressure, reduction of growth functions, pain sensitivity reduction, pupil dilation and the body remaining at heightened state of sensitivity which brings into light the role the mind might play on the presence of certain MSDs; at least according to some areas of clinical study.

Connections have been made between the abovementioned physical conditions and high job demands, low social support, and overall job strain and dissatisfaction.

Individual differences – Genders and individual weight have also been observed as often being integral factors in the manifestation of an MSD, with women discovered to be at a higher risk than men, while obesity also ramps up the possibilities of being diagnosed with an MSD, with lower back problems the example singled out in this instance

Occupational – Because workers maintain the same posture over long work days (and often several years), even natural postures like standing can lead to MSDs (lower back pain being one). That said, less natural postures – such as twisting or tension in the upper body – are predominant contributors to the eventual development of MSDs, thanks to the unnatural biomechanical load of these postures, which we mentioned earlier.

Neck, shoulder, and back regions can be compromised when employees perform recurrent movements over prolonged passages of time, which can implement wear and tear on the joints (and muscles) recruited in many motions. Force, exposure to vibration and extreme changes in temperatures worked in can also contribute to the onset of MSD

Ostensibly there are any number of routine activities, factors and conditions with can lead to an MSD, with age, gender, job, lifestyle and amount of exercise you take part in all vital aspects which can’t be dismissed. By the same token, poor posture (and lack of movement) throughout the day can be just as bad for the body as enduring a strenuous activity without physical warm up or preparation, while certain sports can place stress and strain on the body, just as repetitive activities and sedentary positions can.

What professions are most vulnerable to musculoskeletal disorders?

It’s fair to say that some occupations are more at risk of MSD’s than others, with the examples listed beneath just a few of the selected ones, and based on the continual lifting, carrying, sitting or repetitive nature of the actions which are pre-requisitional/remits of the roles under the spotlight;

  • Seated attendants
  • Lorry drivers
  • Office workers
  • Freight handlers
  • Physical labourers
  • Nurses


Are musculoskeletal disorders more likely the older we get?

Expanding on what we touched on in the first paragraph, although the older generation account for a significant number of musculoskeletal disorder cases recorded annually, that’s not to say they are any more prone than younger people.

For the record, one of the main factors which influences/governs whether or not people make themselves more susceptible to an MSD is down to lifestyle choices, as it’s been proven that the healthier and fitter an individual is (irrespective of their age), the more likely they are to contract such a condition.

Indeed, regular exercise routines and the practising of good physical habits (like sitting with proper posture, lifting heavyweights properly and keeping muscles worked and stretched regularly) forged in our younger years can reduce our likelihood of contracting an MSD as we grow older, as our bodies are more acclimatised to various rigours thanks in part to things like muscle memory.

How can MSDs be prevented?

Whilst musculoskeletal disorders can be helped to be avoided by adopting simple lifestyle changes (especially in those aged under 40-years), there’s no guarantee that you’ll be immune to picking up an injury which could signal the emergence of an MSD as a direct result at some juncture.

But there’s certainly no harm (and much to gain) by dispensing with a bad diet and not exercising, together with putting serious consideration into – and emphasis on – lifting incorrectly, addressing the issue of working at a computer with bad posture and a range of other everyday things which you might not otherwise give a second thought to. And of which any number of examples could easily contribute to heightening your risk of getting an MSD at a later date.

How do I know if I’ve got an MSD?

If you suspect you have an MSD your GP will try to pinpoint exactly what the main cause of your pain or discomfort is, which will be determined by a physical examination, along with a general chat about how your symptoms are affecting you.

In addition to this they may refer you a hospital to undergo routine diagnostic tests like scans, X-rays or blood tests. Essentially the GP/healthcare professional will be keeping their eyes open for any signs of muscle weakness and lack of reflexes in certain areas, which may (or may not) be physically highlighted by obvious inflammation; of certain areas which can indicate arthritis, gout or osteoarthritis.

In terms of an individual believing that they could be suffering from the effects of a musculoskeletal disorder, then you should ask yourself if you’re experiencing any pain when carrying out normal, daily tasks, or if any newly-generated discomfort is restricting your walking or even providing obstacles to getting dressed in the morning; all of which could signal some underlying MSD problems which would need medical evaluation.

If I am diagnosed with an MSD, how would I be treated for it?

The treatment of an MSD is incredibly personal and depends on the individual. For some, medications and physiotherapy may work, while for others the treatment may be a lot more complex and involve specific medicine combinations and a significant change of lifestyle.