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The term musculoskeletal disorder, as defined by The World Health Organisation, denotes health problems of the locomotor apparatus, i.e. of muscles, tendons, the skeleton, cartilage, ligaments and nerves. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) include all those that are induced or aggravated by work and the circumstances of its performance.

WRMSDs remain one of the major causes for occupational ill-health, and are one of the principle health issues associated with overuse or improper use of DSE.

In Great Britain, musculoskeletal disorders account for 44% of all work-related ill-health, and in 2014/15, the number of new cases (incidence) reached 169,000, an incidence rate of 530 cases per 100,000 people. They place a significant burden on employers and employees, causing an estimated 9.5 million lost working days in 2014/15, with an average of 17 days lost per case. WRMSDs can be divided into those affecting the upper limb, neck and shoulder (WRULDs), the lower limb (WRLLDs) and those affecting the back.

WRMSDs Back Disorders

skeleton x rayWork-related low back pain is a major ill-health condition, with back disorders accounting for 31% of the total days lost due to WRMSDs, with an average of 13.3. working days lost per case. The majority of people with low back pain will have experienced a previous episode, as typically it has a recurrent nature. Symptoms can fluctuate and acute attacks often occur as an exacerbation of a chronic low back condition.

According to The Health and Occupational Reporting Network of GP’s, keyboard work was reported to be the third highest cause of work-related low back pain after lifting / carrying and material manipulation, between 2012 and 2014.

Work-Related Upper Limb Disorders

WRULDs account for around 43% of the total working days lost due to WRMSDs, with an average of 17.7 days lost per case. They include a large number of different musculoskeletal disorders involving the neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand. Typical examples include repetitive strain trauma, lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), hand / wrist tendon syndromes, and nerve compression syndromes such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Between 2012 and 2014, keyboard work was one of the main causes of WRULDs cited by general practitioners and their patients.


musculoskeletal disorders at computer screen
Worker at laptop with aching wrists
References: THOR-GP: The Health and Occupational Reporting Network - General Practitioners. Labour Force Survey 2015 HSE: Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorder (WRMSDs) Statistics, Great Britain, 2015

Factors Contributing to the Development of Musculoskeletal Disorders (in relation to DSE work)

1. Static Muscular Load

Conditions where muscles are tensed over long periods of time in order to keep a certain body position (e.g. holding the arms in a typing position above the keyboard) can lead to static muscular load. As such the muscles have no opportunity to relax, leading to muscle fatigue, decreased muscle function, and possible musculoskeletal pain. In addition, continuous contraction of a muscle can restrict its blood flow, which can result in the build up of toxins and the development of painful trigger points (painful muscle ‘knots’).

2. Muscular / Joint Inactivity

The human body, with approximately 640 muscles and 206 bones, is designed to move. Yet more and more people are spending the majority of their waking hours sitting down, whether that be for long periods of time at their desk at work, or on the sofa at home in front of the TV. Muscles, tendons and bones all need activation through movement to maintain their functional capacity. If this movement is lacking, functional and structural problems will develop as a result of deconditioning. This in turn leads to an inability of the muscles to correctly stabilise the joints and ligaments; joints may become unstable, or painful and inflamed through overloading, and movement abnormalities can occur, resulting in the development of musculoskeletal disorders.

3. Monotonous Repetition

Repetitive work, such as keyboard use when typing, or continuous use of the mouse during data entry, occurs when the same body parts are repeatedly activated and there is no possibility of relaxation or variation in movement. This can lead to musculoskeletal failures and the onset of WRMSDs;  upper limb disorders due to repetitive movement are often summarised as ‘repetitive strain injury’, or RSI.

Man on floorDSE and Risk of WRMSDs

In addition to the 3 factors listed above, the risk of WRMSDs in DSE work can be increased by:

  • poor equipment
  • poor furniture
  • ineffective work organisation
  • poor working environment
  • job design and posture
  • inappropriate working methods
  • poor workstation set-up

This photo is a good illustration of all of the above!

How Positura Can Help Reduce the Risk

Our DSE and full ergonomic assessments will highlight the potential of development of WRMSDs by identifying any of the risk factors listed here. From this we can make specific recommendations in order to reduce those risk factors. We also recognise the importance of identifying non-obvious causes of problems, in order to advise your company as to the most appropriate course of action. For example, we may identify that poor working posture is in response to screen reflection or glare, rather than poor furniture, and therefore our recommendations would relate to solving the glare issue.

To enquire about booking a Musculoskeletal Health or DSE Assessment click here.