Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs): Identifying the Risks

Male mechanic working under lifted car.

No one can predict who'll get a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). In fact, many people never get one. Even so, you should know and reduce any activity-related or personal risk factors. Doing so is the best way to lower the risk of an MSD. If you already have symptoms, knowing your risks is vital. You can't stop a problem unless you identify its cause.

Activity-related risk factors

  • Posture is a problem when you slouch or when you bend, twist, or reach too far. Awkward postures overwork soft tissues and joints. Any body position can also be a risk if it's held so long that muscles tense up and blood flow is reduced (static posture).

  • Force is pressure or strain on the body. You create force when you grip or when you pull, push, or lift heavy materials. Contact force occurs when you lean or press against a hard surface or sharp edge.

  • Repetition is doing the same task or using the same set of muscles over and over again.

  • The environment is your surroundings, such as cold temperatures, vibration, and lighting.

  • Duration is the length of time you are exposed to a risk factor. The longer the exposure, the higher your risk.

  • Recovery time is the amount of time the body needs to rest after doing a repetitive task or being in an awkward posture. Recovery time becomes a risk when the time between activities is not long enough to allow the body to recover.

Two risks are greater than one

The more often you're exposed to a risk factor, the more likely you are to get an MSD. Your chance of injury also goes up greatly when risk factors are combined. For example, frequent repetition becomes even riskier when it's combined with lots of force.