Reducing the High Rate of Overexertion Injuries

Megan Embler, MS, ATC, LAT, Lead Onsite Athletic Trainer for Concentra

What is Overexertion?

Overexertion occurs when the body's capabilities don't match job demands, leading to fatigue and injury, often resulting in musculoskeletal strain. Common triggers can include lifting heavy loads, repetitive motions, and maintaining awkward postures while exerting force.1

Besides forceful exertion, other causes of overexertion injuries include rapid movements hindering muscle coordination and temperature extremes. Working in hot environments can induce heat stress and fatigue, while cold environments reduce blood flow, increasing muscle tension. Additional causes include regular heavy-weight carrying, forceful tool usage, and prolonged standing on hard surfaces. Poor posture during physical tasks or inadequate space can also heighten injury risks.2

Overexertion injuries vary among individuals, making it important to recognize personal limits and heed bodily signals. Most prevalent are neck and back injuries, often causing persistent pain and elevating the risk of subsequent incidents, even post-recovery.

According to Liberty Mutual Group, overexertion tops the list of workplace injuries in the US. Jeffrey E. Fernandez underscores the challenge of assessing excessive effort due to individual thresholds.3 The National Safety Council defines overexertion injuries as arising from excessive physical effort, repetitive motion, or free bodily motion toward an external injury or illness source.4

Overexertion and workplace injury

In the period spanning 2021 to 2022, overexertion and bodily reaction accounted for the highest number of days away from work, job transfers, or restrictions (referred to as DART cases), totaling 1,001,440, followed closely by incidents involving contact with objects and equipment, which amounted to 780,690 cases.5 It's worth noting that 96.3 percent of cases related to exposure to harmful substances or environments resulted in at least one day away from work, totaling 634,080 out of 658,240 total DART cases.5

Regarding the total DART cases attributed to overexertion and bodily reaction, 52.1 percent, totaling 521,350 cases, were classified as days away from work (DAFW) cases.5 These occurred at a rate of 26.2 cases per 10,000 full-time employees and necessitated a median of 14 days away from work. The remaining 47.9 percent, totaling 480,090 cases, were classified as days of job transfer and restriction (DJTR) cases. These occurred at an annualized rate of 24.1 cases per 10,000 FTE workers and required a median of 20 days of job transfer or restriction.5

In a recent report, Liberty Mutual Insurance revealed that overexertion involving outside sources emerged as the leading cause of the most expensive workplace injuries in 2023.5  This significant finding underscores the substantial economic burden placed on employers due to workplace injuries, particularly those related to overexertion involving outside sources. The financial impact of injuries stemming from overexertion involving outside sources is estimated at $12.8 billion annually, representing the largest portion of the overall $48.2 billion spent on the top 10 injuries covered by workers' compensation.6

Analyzing the top 10 causes of severe workplace injuries leading to disability, as detailed in the 2023 WSI, reveals notable statistics regarding overexertion injuries by industry.6 These figures shed light on the financial implications and prevalence of overexertion-related injuries across various sectors.

What employees can do to help prevent overexertion injuries

Understanding the severity of overexertion injuries is paramount for employees. As outlined by Ohio State University, overexertion can result in musculoskeletal disorders. These disorders manifest through symptoms such as swelling, numbness, stiffness, chronic pain, or even permanent loss of mobility in muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints.7 Consequently, these injuries bring about significant pain, medical expenses, the need for physical therapy, and absenteeism from work.

To reduce the risk of overexertion injuries, OSU recommends several measures:7

  • Employ proper lifting techniques for handling heavy objects
  • Utilize material-handling aids like carts or hand trucks for transporting heavy items
  • Seek assistance when necessary
  • Avoid overloading by refraining from adding extra packages or boxes to a full load
  • Organize workstations to minimize reaching, bending, twisting, and awkward postures
  • Incorporate short breaks during strenuous tasks
  • Engage in regular stretching, exercise, and strength training to prevent injury
  • Take frequent 20–30-minute breaks from static positions
  • At a desk, keep items close, use a footrest, and adjust computer height
  • Report any signs of pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, tenderness, or loss of strength promptly to prevent the development of full-blown injuries

What employers can do to help prevent overexertion injuries

Encouraging employees to promptly report any signs of injury can benefit a company in terms of both reducing time away from work, which reduces loss of productivity and loss on returns. Unfortunately, many employees hesitate to report injuries due to fears of job loss. However, with support from leadership, they'll feel empowered to seek help early, preventing the injury from worsening.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation advises employers to:8

  • Analyze loss reports and business operations to identify recent instances of overexertion injuries and tasks with potential risk factors.
  • Encourage early reporting of musculoskeletal pain and discomfort to facilitate timely intervention and prevent more severe injuries.

Warning signs of an overexertion injury

If an employee is unaccustomed to carrying heavy loads, they are at a higher risk of exceeding their capacity and sustaining an overexertion injury. Similarly, using worn-out tools or being unable to grip them properly increases the risk of injury. Performing repetitive tasks without taking breaks can also pose a risk of injury.

An employee may be approaching overexertion if they experience dizziness, soreness, overheating, excessive sweating, elevated pulse rate, abdominal pain, heart flutter, or chest pain.

Early reporting of even mild strains or sprains, or simply noticing increased soreness, can significantly shorten recovery time.9 Adopting a proactive mindset rather than a reactive one can yield positive effects. Beginning the workday with proper warm-up and focus reduces the risk of overexertion injuries. Implementing pre-task stretch and flex sessions, emphasizing total body stretching with added attention to task-specific areas, such as extra stretches for the lower back and hips for shifts involving bent-over work, is one effective approach.10

Overexertion injuries can pose significant costs, affecting both employee health and a company's profitability. It's important for both employees and supervisors to understand the risk factors associated with these injuries. Identify high-risk jobs and collaborate with supervisors and employees to develop solutions aimed at reducing these risks and fostering a safer work environment for all.


Concentra has always recognized the benefits of implementing an active treatment approach for a wide range of injury care, with a specific emphasis on injuries arising from overexertion. Our highly skilled physical therapists and athletic trainers excel in delivering hands-on therapy, which has been proven to result in swifter and more comprehensive recovery for individuals. If your employees are currently grappling with injuries attributed to overexertion, we encourage you to connect with one of our work health experts to gain further insights and explore the potential benefits of our specialized treatment approach.


  1. The Costly Problem of Overexertion,” EHS Today, May 31, 2001.
  2. Prevention of Overexertion Injuries in the Workplace,” Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, 2015.
  3. The Costly Problem of Overexertion,” EHS Today, May 31, 2001.
  4. Overexertion and Bodily Reaction,” National Safety Council, n.d.
  5. Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, 2021-2022,” BLS, November 8, 2023.
  6. Overexertion tops 2023 list of costliest workplace injury causes,” Safety News Alert, August 15, 2023.
  7. Preventing Lifting and Overexertion Injuries,” Ohio State University, June 17, 2019.
  8. Prevention of Overexertion Injuries in the Workplace,” Bureau of Workers' Compensation, 2015.
  9. Ergonomics,” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, n.d.
  10. The Importance of Stretching,” Harvard Health Publishing, April 17, 2024.