Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are a group of painful disorders that affect the muscles, tendons, and nerves. Most health and safety agencies, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), only classify disorders that develop gradually through overuse of the musculoskeletal system as WMSDs. Organizations such as the European Agency for Safety and Health also consider acute traumas, such as fractures, to be WMSDs. Organizations which limit WMSDs to injuries that develop gradually due to overuse do so for the purpose of developing type-specific injury prevention strategies.
WMSDs can be caused by a variety of stressors. Factors which may lead to WMSDs include repetitive strain, awkward posture, and insufficient rest time for affected areas of the body. These issues can be exacerbated by stress put on the body by temperature or vibration. Workplace pressure to be more productive can heighten the risks of WMSDs by discouraging workers from properly resting the affected body part.
WMSDs primarily affect joint areas. Because the majority of work involves the use of hands and arms, the most common source of WMSDs are the shoulders, neck, wrists, hands, and elbows. Common examples include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, thoracic outlet syndrome, and tension neck syndrome. WMSDs can also result from strain to the legs, hips,ankles, feet, and back.
Treatment for WMSDs varies depending on the severity of the injury. Treatment can require rest, exercise, and, in severe cases, surgery. WMSDs can be avoided by applying safe workplace design principles which minimize repetitive strain, prevent awkward posture, and minimize the amount of continuous force placed on any single part of the body. This may involve rotating tasks between workers, investing in ergonomic workplace equipment, and instituting mandatory rest periods if repetitive strain is unavoidable.