How many times have you left work with a stiff back, neck pain, or a headache? Probably, too many to count. Work-related muscle aches and pains are one of the most common occupational hazards of modern-day workplaces. However, rather than paying attention to them, most professionals choose to ignore them. Over time, some of these symptoms can even evolve into more serious medical conditions that can limit your body’s capability and mobility.
While your productivity at work might be soaring, chances are it is also costing you your musculoskeletal health. The musculoskeletal system refers to the performance of bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues. Collectively, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are a group of disorders affecting joints, nerves, tendons, and muscles.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 1.71 billion people across the world have been affected by musculoskeletal conditions. And, these disorders are among the leading contributors to disability globally.
The root of the problem
Work-related aches and pains are usually caused due to activities performed frequently or repetitively. Another common cause is doing tasks that require maintaining awkward postures for long periods. At the same time, underlying health conditions like arthritis can also play a role in aggravating such aches.
Another factor that can exacerbate WMSDs is aging. As you grow old, the body experiences loss of muscle mass and function. The process of aging may reduce joint mobility and put a person at a higher risk of developing WMSDs.
A few common examples of work-related pain and MSDs are:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: The condition is caused due to pressure on the median nerve and its common symptoms are numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand.
- Back and neck pain: Remember that persistent pain in your lower back that won’t go away? It could be due to sitting for too long, incorrect posture, or standing for long periods.
- Swelling: You might have noticed swelling in your feet whenever you sit or stand for too long. The condition is called peripheral edema and is caused due to fluid build-up in your feet.
- Strain: Long hours of viewing a computer screen not only lead to digital eye strain, dry eyes, and blurred vision but also neck and shoulder pain.
How to fix the problem
While work-related pains and aches might be affecting an individual’s health, they also impact the collective productivity of employers by leading to absenteeism, early retirements, and limiting professionals’ mobility and dexterity.
Given how musculoskeletal conditions impact the overall well-being of a person, they are a concern that deserves much more attention than we are ready to give them. For starters, you could begin with a few changes in your working style that can help you manage these aches better. Here are a few of them:
- Take a break Avoid sitting at your desk for too long. Take a walk every few hours and stretch. If you are experiencing eye strain, you can also practice the 20-20-20 rule. According to the rule, one has to take a 20-second break after every 20 minutes and look at something that’s around 20 feet away.
- Fix that posture An incorrect posture is a minefield of aches that will only make your office shifts more painful. You can start by not slouching or picking out a chair that provides ample support to your lower back. In case your feet swell up too often, you can choose a chair with a footrest to elevate them.
- Don’t keep standing for too long If your job requires you to stand for too long, try balancing your weight evenly on your feet. Walk whenever you get the chance. You can also give compression socks a try to reduce your discomfort.
- Listen to your body If sitting or standing in a certain way is uncomfortable, change it. Bearing pain never made anyone healthy.
- Consult a doctor In case of prolonged aches and pains, consult a doctor and avoid self-medication. There’s a reason they say the doctor knows the best.
While there’s no denying that the onus of one’s health lies on an individual, when it comes to WMSDs, there’s a lot that employers can also do. For instance, making their offices more ergonomic-friendly. It can start with something as simple as fixing the lighting, providing active seating, or giving employees the option to work in different postures and encouraging them to work in flexible environments.