All you need to know about MSDs

In France, Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) represent 87% of occupational diseases. In this article, find out more about MSDs.

MSDs ? What are they ?  

According to Santé publique France, MSDs define a group of disorders disturbing the musculoskeletal system manifested by daily pain and discomfort.

MSDs mainly affect structures located near joints, in particular, tendons, muscles, nerves, ligaments and vessels. The preferential areas of these disorders are located in the upper part of our body (shoulder, elbow, back, hand). However, they can just as easily affect the lower part of the body (knee or foot for example).

Thus, the most frequently observed pathologies when we talk about MSDs are : low back pain, neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome or shoulder rotator cuff syndrome.


Who is affected by MSDs?

 According to the French National Health Insurance, MSDs account for more than 87% of occupational diseases resulting in work stoppage or financial compensation, due to long-term health consequences.2 Therefore, they are thus the leading cause of occupational diseases, and no sector is spared.

Musculoskeletal disorders affect a person’s health and quality of life. They represent an economical and societal burden, that will continue to grow in the up-coming years. Indeed, with an aging population and a longer life expectancy, the context will inevitably lead to an increase in MSDs.

MSDs are therefore spreading to almost all professions and sectors.


How do they occur?

MSDs are the result of an imbalance between the body’s physical capacities and the important solicitation of some of its parts. MSDs can sometimes occur very quickly, however, it is more commonly observed that they appear gradually.

Several factors are involved in the appearance of MSDs.

– Individual factors

Some of these factors cannot be modified, such as age, gender or family predisposition. Others can be modified by preventive interventions, such as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle.

– Mechanical and biomechanical factors

Carrying loads or awkward postures can lead to the development of MSDs. The more stresses are exerted, the higher is the risk of acute injury or chronic wear and tear. When these postures and heavy load carrying are performed repeatedly, the stresses are more regular, and increase the risk of MSDs even more.

– Environmental factors

The lack of lighting, the cold and the noise are environmental factors that aggravate mechanical stress.

– Psychosocial factors

The monotonous work, the stress, the poor social interactions and the lack of recognition are among the psychosocial factors that considerably increase the risk of MSDs.

– Factors related to work organization

The deadlines that are too short, the lack of breaks and resources as well as a fast-paced work, are also factors inducing the appearance of MSDs. 

Overall, the onset of musculoskeletal disorders is therefore multifactorial but can be divided into two categories: occupational risk factors and individual risk factors.


What are the consequences of MSDs?

Its depends on the MSD’s phase of intensity:  

– In the so-called “initial” phase, symptoms manifest themselves while the tasks are performed. They appear gradually throughout the day or the week but disappear in the evening. At this stage, they do not impact the employee’s work or quality of life. 

– During the intermediate phase, the pain appears earlier in the day or earlier in the week. Symptoms start to be felt outside of work and are progressively impacting the employee’s ability to work.

– The proven pathology phase is when the pathology is diagnosed and affects durably the employee. The pain is chronical, and felt while performing activities, as well as when at rest.  

In summary, people affected by MSDs experience a real loss of mobility and independence. This situation leads almost systematically leads to a decrease in the quality of life, and consequently induces direct or indirect socio-economical costs.

If we place ourselves in a company’s perspective, we automatically deduce an impact on the employee (pain, fatigue, disability, work stoppage…) but also on the activity (absenteeism, decrease in productivity, increase in contributions, recruitment difficulties, high turnover, work overload and disorganization…).

It is a global impact, which is felt both on the health system, but also on the economical level, pushing us to seek not only for means of prevention but also for effective and sustainable solutions.


Are there any solutions?

On the professional level, prevention is obviously THE solution to avoid the appearance of these MSDs.

Organizational solutions can allow for the diversification of tasks or the implementation of rotations to avoid repetitiveness. Another approach is the organization of working hours with the planning of breaks, which gives employees the opportunity to rest, and has proven to be an effective solution in preventing the occurrence of MSDs.

Training in gestures and postures is also a key component of this first approach. Adopting the right postures at work is an effective solution to prevent the generation of MSDs. It is useful to remind employees of the importance of these simple yet effective actions for their health. For example, it is estimated that carrying a load without bending the knees multiplies by 5 the force exerted on the vertebrae.

Technical solutions can also be considered: the design of workstations or the choice of new equipment to facilitate the work of operators, are solutions that can reduce physical stress and facilitate the operator’s work. 

Finally, there are also innovative solutions such as exoskeletons or arms manipulator, that can not only reduce the risk of MSDs, but also improve the quality of life of employees. 

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