What You Need to Know about Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Haley Bass

There are nearly 3 million work-related injuries reported each year, around 30% of which are due to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Employees who suffer an MSD-related injury typically need more than a week off work for treatment and recovery. The combination of workers’ compensation costs, lost wages, and lost productivity from MSD injuries costs employers around $50 billion annually.

Needless to say, MSDs have a large impact on the workplace. To help prevent and reduce these costs, it’s essential for employers to understand what these injuries are, what puts your employees at risk, and how you can prevent or treat them.

What are Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Musculoskeletal disorders, often referred to as repetitive strain or repetitive motion injuries, affect the body’s functional movements, impacting muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and other parts of the musculoskeletal system.

MSDs develop out of common movements that wouldn’t cause you pain in daily tasks, but do become risky when repeated continually and forcefully. These movements include bending, gripping, straightening, holding, twisting, or reaching. While you might reach up and grab an item on the top of a shelf at the grocery store and feel perfectly fine, continuing to make that motion at work without time for recovery can lead to an MSD.

Symptoms of an MSD

The most common symptom of MSDs is pain. The pain can work in stages, first with the affected limb only feeling a little achy at work, then progressing to a consistent pain that lasts outside of work and impacts functionality. Someone with an MSD may also have stiff joints, tight muscles, or swelling.

Employees who complete repetitive tasks, whether it’s typing at the computer for eight hours a day or lifting heavy boxes in four-hour shifts, need to watch for these symptoms. Let them know to come to you or their supervisor if they start feeling achy while completing the same tasks. It’s better to take care of the pain proactively than to wait for a strain or injury.

How to Prevent MSD Injuries

An MSD injury can be prevented with a few proactive steps.

  1. Make sure employees are working safely and correctly. If your employees regularly lift heavy items, make sure they’re using proper lifting techniques. If they type for several hours a day, make sure their keyboards are placed at the correct level. Ensure all your workspaces are ergonomically designed for your employees.

  2. Promote stretching and exercise. Stretching before and after physical labor can keep muscles warm and reduce the risk of a strain or tear. Regular exercise is not only good for general health, it also promotes circulation and reduces muscle tension, preparing your body to take on more physical tasks.

  3. Include rest times during shifts. Repetition is a large reason why these basic movements can become serious injuries. Adding rest periods in a shift or during a long task allows the body to recover. Breaks also keep employees from getting so caught up in repetitive tasks that they make a mistake and get hurt.

How to Treat MSD Injuries

If an employee develops an MSD-related injury, it’s important to seek treatment quickly. The longer you wait, the worse the injury can become.

ou have a few options for treatment. The injured employee can restrict movement and avoid the tasks that caused the injury, but that won’t provide much healing. Using heat and cold on the pain can relieve muscle pain and reduce swelling, but it’s not a long-term solution.

A physical therapist is your best option for effective treatment. Not only can a physical therapist help implement the proactive steps to prevent MSDs, they also know the best ways to treat these injuries. By taking an active approach to care, the therapist focuses on bringing the patient back to full function. They don’t rely on medication to get rid of the pain, but use long-term solutions that lead to a faster, fuller recovery.


Concentra physical therapists are experts in therapy, as well as work-related injury care. They see a lot of MSD injuries and know the best methods to return employees back to work quickly, feeling better than ever. Our therapists also know great techniques to prevent MSD injuries, and can come to your workplace to educate employees on proper ergonomics, safe lifting techniques, and exercise or stretching routines.

Sign up for a Concentra physical therapy consultation and reduce the risk of MSDs at your workplace.