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Do you think only accidents or impacts alone can cause injuries to the human body? Then you’re off-base. Even repetitive stress or overuse of your body part could spawn disabilities to your body. The so called injuries to your muscles and skeletal system are known as musculoskeletal disorders.
Musculoskeletal disorders are defined as injuries or impairments to the musculoskeletal system of the human body like muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, spinal discs, and blood vessels.
Research by the Global Burden of Disease in 2017 revealed that around 1.3 billion musculoskeletal disorders cases were reported worldwide from 1990 to 2017. Among these cases, 121,000 people lost their lives, and 138.7 million people were destined to lead their lives in disability due to such repetitive motion injuries or impairments.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) conducts annual surveys on injuries and illnesses. BLS has found that musculoskeletal disorders are the single largest category of injuries and illnesses under occupational diseases in the U.S. In 2011, U.S companies expended around 50 billion dollars on the MSDs for their employees.
Common Musculoskeletal Disorders
There are more than 150 types of musculoskeletal injuries categorized. Let’s go through a few of them in this article.
- Arthritis: The wear and tear, swelling, pain, infection, and tenderness in the joints are known as arthritis. There are different kinds of arthritis, such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Osteoarthritis, and Psoriatic Arthritis. This disease condition is degenerative and age-related.
- Osteoporosis: Due to the loss of muscle tissues, hormonal changes, or deficiency of vitamins, bones become weak and brittle. Once they become fragile, they tend to break easily. This condition is named Osteoporosis.
- Ankylosing Spondylitis: Reduction of flexibility due to the eventual fusing of small bones in the spine is Ankylosing spondylitis. This loss of flexibility will make the spine bend forward. This is a kind of inflammatory disease mainly found in men.
- Annular Tears: The ligaments connecting the vertebra and discs weaken and tear the annulus fibrosus. This will, in a way, lead to disc herniations.
- Disc Herniations: When the jelly-like disc nucleus protrudes through the tear in the annulus of the spine, it dislocates the disc and affects the spinal cord.
- Carpal, Cubital and Radial Tunnel Syndromes: If the median, ulnar and radial nerves are pinched while passing through the arm and wrist, they will cause Carpal, Cubital and Radial syndromes respectively. These cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the arm, elbow, and hand.
- Tendinitis or Tendonitis:Due to repetitive stress, tear or degeneration can occur in the tendons. Aging and overuse make the tendons less flexible and weak. When the tendons are affected, they will react with inflammation. This will result in severe pain.
- Rotator Cuff Injuries: The tear in the tissues connecting the rotator cuff joints occurs when the shoulder joints face overexertion or heavy impacts.
- Epicondylitis or Tennis Elbow: Overuse of wrist and arm ends up in irritation of the tissues connecting the forearm to the elbow. Pain in the arm and elbow could be the result.
- Trigger Finger: Due to inflammation of the tendon in the fingers, one or more of the fingers might get stuck in a bent position and release after some time.
- Ligament Sprain: The ligaments connecting the bone and the muscles stretch or tear due to twisting or turning of the body parts.
- Tension Neck Syndrome: A type of neck pain where the trapezius muscle experiences tightness and tenderness.
- Thoracic Outlet Compression: Narrowing of the space between the collarbone and the first rib will compress the blood vessels and nerves emerging out of the thoracic spine.
- Digital Neuritis: It is also known as Morton Metatarsalgia. It is the discomfort or cramping sensation felt between the second and third toes. Sometimes it is felt with shooting pain or burning sensation also.
- De Quervain’s Syndrome: De Quervain’s tenosynovitis affects the tendons near the start of the thumb. Turning the wrist or grasping things will excruciate pain.
- Mechanical Back Syndrome: Trauma due to car accidents, poor posture, repetitive stress to the low back, and incorrect exercises could lead to excessive pain in the lower back.
- Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia causes pain to the whole body along with fatigue and tenderness to the muscles.
- Bone fractures & Dislocations: Heavy impacts in the automobile collisions like truck accidents or rollover accidents and slip and fall accidents, etc., could result in bone fractures and dislocation of bones and joints.
- Scoliosis: When the human spine bends abnormally to the sides, it is known as Scoliosis. Childhood scoliosis may worsen with age. The severity of it will produce extreme pain and disability.
Prominent Causes of Musculoskeletal Disorders
Musculoskeletal injuries or disorders can be caused by various factors. Let’s analyze them in detail.
- Overuse injuries in daily life or occupation: Repetitive stress given to the body parts such as neck, shoulders, arms, or the lower limbs for a prolonged period could render deterioration of ligaments or muscles. A sportsperson or a person who does interminable heavy manual work is susceptible to such injuries.
- Poor posture: Not maintaining an appropriate posture can affect the normal curve of the spine. People sitting with a slouched posture at home or work or bending down to work on a computer can affect the spine as the weight distribution is improper. Giving weight to only one leg while standing, lifting heavy objects from the ground by putting pressure on the back are all incorrect postures. In the modern world, people have more machines to do most of the works. Lack of physical works and desk-bound lifestyle determines posture-related health issues.
- Old age: Older people tend to have degenerative bones or disc problems like arthritis. Arthritis is the major musculoskeletal disorder that stands out as the reason for major hospitalizations.
- Immobilization of limbs for a long time: When upper limbs are under the cast for a prolonged time after fractures, there could be flexibility issues to the joints and limbs. Even in older people, even if they are cured of fractures, the fear of getting pain may prevent them from actively moving their limbs. This will also cause musculoskeletal disorders.
- Motor vehicle accidents: Musculoskeletal injuries are inseparable parts of auto accidents. The heavy impacts would generate injuries and fractures to the skeletal system and soft tissue injuries to the muscles. These injuries would need extensive treatments, long recuperation time, and keep people away from normal activities.
- Slip and falls: Slip, trip, or falls could lead to severe fractures or soft tissue injuries to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Slip and fall injuries would be dangerous to everyone, especially kids and older people.
- Improper exercise: Exercising is inevitable to gain a healthy body. However, if one attempts unsuitable exercise types to overexert oneself without knowing one’s physical conditions, it could injure the soft tissues. Expert advice should be sought before stepping onto any exercise.
- Workplace accidents: The accidents or mishaps at workplaces like in the construction field or working on height and with heavy objects are possible factors in work-related accidents. Exposure to poisonous chemicals in the absence of protective garments is also a cause for such occupational mishaps leading to musculoskeletal impairments.
In general, musculoskeletal disorders are influenced by the individual’s age, occupation, activities, trauma, heredity, and lifestyle.
According to the data collated by Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) on days away from work (DAFW), MSD cases are the sole reason for around 30 percent of the employees’ days away from work. Laborers working on freight, stock and material movers, nursing assistants, and drivers of heavy trucks have taken more DAFWs due to musculoskeletal disabilities.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) are also known as Work-related musculoskeletal injuries (WRMI). These injuries cause a considerable amount of employees to be away from work for a long time. Most people suffer inflammation due to overexertion of work-related duties, exacerbating painful symptoms. The overuse of upper extremities in work situations generates damage and inflammation to the shoulders, neck, elbows, wrists, and hands; the repetitive stress to the lower extremities results in muscular disorders in the lower back or lower limb.
When the employees stay away from work, it ensues in loss of income to the employees and loss of productivity to the U.S companies. In the U.S, every year, around 2 million workers undergo WMSDs, and around 600,000 workers lose time from work.
The situations that increase the morbidity rate in the industries and construction field are
- Poor posture
- Continuous lifting of heavy things
- Repetitive and intensive work
- Exposure to extreme temperature and chemicals
- Constant use of vibrating machinery
In the healthcare field, the nursing assistants and other workers are also exposed to intensive and stressful work like lifting invalid patients or equipment, reacting to unexpected movements, continuous shifts without any break due to inadequate workforce, etc.
Psychosocial factors like work pressure, job demand, less job satisfaction, lack of support from society, less job control, and boring jobs are also the reasons for musculoskeletal disorders.
Delayed diagnosis of repetitive stress injuries will result in prolonged time away from work, loss of income, loss of job, more medical expenses, unnecessary invasive procedures, mental agony etc.
Musculoskeletal pain will be different for each one based on the cause. For some people, there may be entire body pain as if completely beaten up. The following are the common symptoms people will have.
- Recurrent pain
- Dull pain
- Swelling or edema
- Muscle weakness
Diagnosis of Musculoskeletal Disabilities
Nobody can suspect musculoskeletal impairment all of a sudden. Never overlook the pain and discomfort in the initial stage. Joint pains and stiffness of muscles and joints are wake up calls for something critical in store. Availing of an expert physician’s consultation will definitely save you from further damage. Well-experienced clinicians palpate the area of pain to locate and diagnose the issues. They will gather the patient’s past medical history and symptoms. They will correlate the physical examination findings and prior treatments and symptoms.
The next step taken is to assess the symptoms and compare them with the X-ray studies done. More extensive diagnostic studies like blood tests, arthroscopy, ultrasonography, nerve conduction studies CT scans, and MRI scans will be ordered to know the exact location and cause of muscular pains. When the acute cause and injuries are located, the physicians will go forward with their treatment plans.
Based on the type of injury, the treatment will be planned. Milder pain can be relieved by home treatments like hot or cold therapy, over-the-counter medications, stretching exercises, stress relief therapies, weight reduction, posture correction therapies, and complete rest.
Non-invasive treatments can heal some injuries. They are
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
When the injuries become severe, more extensive and invasive treatments like the treatments listed below will be needed.
- Corticosteroid injections
How to Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders
Musculoskeletal impairments can be prevented from happening by following the given techniques. At workplaces, people should have
- Better work environments
- Rest to the body and mind
- Knowledge to handle the work pressure
- Training to protect oneself from the injuries
- Smart work techniques
- Protective equipment
- Stretching exercises
At home and other places, extreme care and attention should be taken while involving in day to day activities. Staying away from smoking or drug and alcohol usage could also save you from musculoskeletal injuries. Maintain a straight posture while sitting or standing. Know not to overexert one’s body.
Musculoskeletal disorders are the major reason for disabilities and impairments in most people who seek medical assistance. Whatever may be the reason, knowledge to handle work equipment efficiently, intelligence to work smartly without injuring oneself and adequate rest are essential to avoid overexertion injuries.
Not to injure themselves or to be away from illnesses and disorders, human beings cannot stay away from work or be active. Technology is improving at rocket speed. Innovations are done to reduce the work pressure of human beings. With the modern machinery and equipment, let’s learn to work smartly and intelligently.