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Targeting Prevention of Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders

NSC releases white paper highlighting current workplace injury interventions.

Emily Prentice, MPH, CPH, ATC
October 11, 2022

Imagine you’re watching your favorite sports team. You’re at home with burgers on the grill on a crisp, autumn evening. Just as you’re getting ready, you know the players are as well. They had a healthy meal packed full of nutrients, visited their team doctor or athletic trainer for pre-game care, stretched, warmed up, listened to their “pump up playlist” and coach, and huddled as a team. Now, imagine the same game, but this time the athletes did not stretch or warm up; they started playing “cold.”

Now, this scenario is unfathomable.

We all know this would not happen because warm-ups are an established part of the game. However, whether the scenario includes professional athletes, your child getting ready for a soccer game or you heading out for a hike, the benefits of increased blood flow and oxygen to the muscles to reduce injuries – including hamstring “pulls,” muscle strains, ligament sprains and ACL tears – ahead of physical activity are numerous and well documented. It should be unfathomable for anyone to go into an intense physical activity “cold,” but this happens all too often in the workplace and can lead to pain, discomfort and musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs.

Now, this isn’t to say exercise and fitness programs are the silver bullet we’ve been waiting for to solve work-related MSDs. Unfortunately, with workplace exercise and fitness programs, the hazards and risk factors for MSDs still exist. Meaning, our workers are still exposed to the factors causing work-related MSDs.

With that in mind, alarmingly, in 2020, MSDs are the most common type of workplace injury and the leading cause of worker disability, involuntary retirement and limitations to gainful employment – costing businesses billions of dollars in compensation, lost productivity and even more in missed work days. To address this top workplace concern, primarily caused by exposure to repetitive movements, awkward or static postures and forceful exertions, many employers and workers have turned to the latest trends in office equipment and technology, as well as exercise and fitness programs. New findings from the MSD Solutions Lab research team highlight promising solutions for preventing these injuries – and helping workers mitigate existing pain and discomfort.

In the newly released white paper, “Preventing Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders: A Systematic Review of Current Interventions and Future Research Directions, the MSD Solutions Lab research team analyzed nearly 60 scientific studies and academic publications after initially identifying 13,500 potential articles on the topic to uncover promising initiatives employers can leverage to prevent workplace MSDs. The paper specifically examines physical modifications, cognitive processes and organizational change management interventions after the application of rigorous inclusion criteria, including the examination of studies with comparison groups, across the top 10 afflicted industries. Notably, it was found that physical modification interventions are the most studied category of MSD solutions, and several promising interventions exist to reduce MSD-related pain, discomfort or injury, including:

● Equipment to assist with patient transfers
● Exoskeletons and exosuits 
● Load-reducing devices, such as assisted construction lifts or robotic wheelchairs
● Stages of change behavior model* combined with a physical modification intervention
● Health campaigns combined with a physical modification intervention, such as sit-stand desks
● Resistance band training and stretching

However, the interventions that appear the most effective for MSD prevention are ones integrating a physical modification intervention with cognitive processes or organizational change management interventions. For organizations, this means it is crucial to take a multi-faceted approach to MSD prevention. Like a professional athlete, success on the job requires more than just physical readiness. As with all interventions, it is vital for employers to accommodate different working populations, engage with employee feedback and further investigate effectiveness before broad implementation.

This white paper is the first of several research insights from the MSD Solutions Lab to explore and identify knowledge gaps in pursuit of promising solutions for MSD risk reduction. One unique initiative to help advance these efforts and create safer outcomes for millions of workers worldwide is the National Safety Council MSD Pledge, a first-of-its-kind global movement uniting organizations to collectively reduce MSD risk and subsequent injuries among pledgees by 25% by 2025.

If you would like to join us and more than 100 of the nation’s leading employers on our journey to reduce MSDs within your workplace, consider taking the MSD Pledge.

To learn more about this research and the MSD Solutions Lab, visit nsc.org/msd.

*The  stages of change is a health behavior model positing that people progress through six stages during behavior change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emily Prentice, MPH, CPH, ATC

Emily Prentice, MPH, CPH, ATC, is a public health researcher with a background in injury prevention, safety and occupational and environmental health. She is the senior research associate for the MSD Solutions Lab at the National Safety Council.

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