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Musculoskeletal conditions caused by work

39% of UK employees think their musculoskeletal condition is a result of working conditions, according to research from Vitality

Of those surveyed, 6.4% have taken time off work in the past year because of musculoskeletal pain or discomfort.

This figure increases in employees who do not exercise, with levels of inactivity increasing with age (the percentage of employees who do no exercise increases from 28% for those under the age of 30 to 43% for those over 50).

MSCs, sometimes referred to as 'repetitive motion injuries', account for the largest category of workplace injury in the UK. Common MSCs include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and ligament strain. Typical combinations for sufferers involve pain in the lower back, neck, shoulders and knees.

For every employee who suffers a musculoskeletal condition 2.4 days of productive time are lost per year, according to Vitality's research.

The loss of productivity increases with the number of areas of the body affected. For a quarter (25%) of employees that have a MSC in more than one body part 4.8 working days are lost each year.

Employees are far more likely to discuss short-term injuries with their employers than more complex MSCs, head vitality coach at Vitality At Work Andy Magill told HR magazine.

“Musculoskeletal conditions are one of the more common conditions that employees claim for using private medical insurance, and so are one of the most common areas of discussion for employers. In my experience as a physiotherapist, employees are more open to discussing acute musculoskeletal injuries, such as those related to the back or knee, especially if not related to work. It’s more difficult if other issues are at play, like if it was a work-related injury compared with rolling their ankle playing sport,” he said.

As a lack of exercise can worsen MSCs, employers have a duty to encourage employees to keep active, Magill added.

“To increase awareness of the issue employers should speak proactively to all employees, even those who don’t suffer from any musculoskeletal issues, and encourage them to move around the office as much as possible. Employers should encourage employees to carve out time in the day to use office space to stay mobile and move their muscles and bones (i.e. get up regularly and walk around or change position)."

Promoting other areas of health and wellbeing such as physical wellbeing, nutrition and getting the right amount of sleep, will also help to mitigate the chance of employees developing musculoskeletal conditions, he added.

Magill said that making small adjustments such as providing standing desks or helping to make travel arrangements easier can also aid a recovery plan.

He added that it was important for employers to discuss MSCs and their root causes, which can sometimes be stress.

“In some cases musculoskeletal conditions can actually be related to the employee’s mental wellbeing or from another medical issue that is manifesting as musculoskeletal aches, such as back pain. This would therefore require a different type of support or intervention from the employer, e.g. a management or treatment plan for the root cause of the issue,” he said.

Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey had responses from 166 organisations and 31,950 employees.