Managing Musculoskeletal Problems In The Workplace


Glenn Robertson, UKIM’s Head of Occupational Physiotherapy / Ergonomist, talks to us about managing musculoskeletal problems in the workplace …

Musculoskeletal (MSK) problems are very common within or due to the workplace; around 1.71 billion people suffer from them. The conditions affect your joints, bones and muscles, and sometimes your nerves. It can include conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, back pain and osteoporosis. These conditions can negatively impact an individual as they may become less active, experience pain and discomfort, as well as experiencing unemployment.

According to research from Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2020 MSK problems were the second most common cause of sickness absence, and it caused 20.8 million days of work lost.  DWP’s latest data shows that 48% of PIP claimants had problems with connective or MSK pain. It’s not always due to the workplace, it can happen naturally, and outside of work, however, work is a big contributing factor towards MSK; for example, sitting at an office desk can cause back, wrist and neck pain due to seating and computer screens being in uncomfortable angles or just repetitive strains in factory settings.

How can MSK conditions affect someone’s work?

This will depend upon the nature of the injury and what the individuals’ work entails. It could be that the employee is absent from work as they are unable to perform the required tasks, or they may need to be on modified duties – tasks which can be performed without causing any further damage/allows recovery.

What helpful measures can be taken in the workplace?

  • To help prevent/reduce work related MSK conditions, an assessment of the job content and ergonomic risks can identify areas of potential risk and therefore where the process can be improved to reduce the risk e.g., manual handling tasks, DSE etc
  • If there are already concerns with absence/reporting of MSK conditions, then reviewing the data may identify areas of increased risk, which can then be assessed, and improvements can be made.
  • Taking the time to identify possible risks and making appropriate changes will prevent injuries and therefore absence, claims etc.
  • Early reporting of any concerns with work processes, tools, parts etc. can lead to early intervention and preventing injuries.

What measures can be taken personally?

  • Report any discomfort early (within 24hrs is ideal) so that it can be assessed and treated before developing or becoming chronic. The earlier an injury is assessed and treated the quicker it will settle and if there is an issue with the work they are doing, this can be assessed and changed so the other employees are not exposed to the same risks and develop MSK conditions.
  • Follow the advice given.
  • Complete the exercises prescribed.

How can physiotherapy help?

  • It helps by assessing and treating conditions.
  • Referring on for appropriate investigations/other professional intervention when indicated.
  • Understanding the job demands and ensuring the employee is returned to the correct level of fitness to be able to complete the tasks.
  • Advising management and employee on workplace adjustments for an individual returning to work.
  • Giving timescales for returning to work and to full fitness – an employee may be able to return to work even though they are not seen as fully fit.
  • Workplace/station assessments advising on adjustments/equipment/process improvements to prevent MSK conditions.
  • Advice and education on why MSK conditions may develop and how to prevent them.  

How can UKIM Occupational Health & Wellbeing help?

Here at UKIM, we offer various health and wellbeing packages to suit business and employee needs. From Pre-placement Assessments to Health surveillance and Physiotherapy and MSK Services, UKIM can provide people with personalised treatment plans so that they can feel the best within themselves and with their work.