Musculoskeletal Disorders

Also commonly known as Computer injuries, Musculoskeletal Disorders include repetitive strain injuries and back pain, posture disorders.

What are Musculoskeletal disorders?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) is a condition that affects the part of the body that is subjected to repeated stress, strain or both. The musculoskeletal system is an organ system that enables the body to move through the use of the muscle and skeletal systems in combination.

MSD occurs when a part of the musculoskeletal system is called on to work harder, stretch farther, impact more directly or otherwise function at a greater level then it is prepared for. The initial impact to the affected area may be minute, but it can easily cause damage and great discomfort if it occurs repeatedly. It is the build up of this trauma that causes the disorder.

Work-related Musculoskeletal disorders (computer injuries) develop from repeated stress and strain to the body's muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and nerves. The back, shoulders, neck, arms and hands are most commonly affected.

Two Main Types Of MSD

  1. Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) - Carpal Tunnel, Tendinitis, Lateral epicondylitis (tennis/golfer's elbow)
  2. Back pain/disorders - spinal disc problems, hernias etc

Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs)

A repetitive strain injury (RSI) may affect the arms, from fingers to shoulder, and neck.

Some examples of Repetitive Strain Injuries are:

1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  • Passageway through the wrist is restricted and the nerves in that area are compressed.

  • Tendon inflammation resulting from repetitive work, such as uninterrupted typing, can cause carpal tunnel symptoms.

  • Causes wrist pain, hands and numbness in the fingers

2. Tendinitis

  • Inflammation or irritation of the tendon causing pain and stiffness in the affected area.

  • Results from repeated use of the tendon.

3. Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow / medial epicondylitis, also known as golfer's elbow

  • Attributed to small tears of the tendons that attach forearm muscles to the arm bone at the elbow joint.

Back Pain/ Disorders

Back pain/ disorders affect the muscles and skeletal structure in upper and lower back.

This includes spinal disc problems such as hernias, muscle and soft tissue injuries.

Click to read The Lower Back Pain Toolkit, a reliable information source about back pain.

Neck Pain

Neck pain is often caused by old injuries that caused fixations in your neck, often unknown to you. This is caused by the incorrect position of your computer monitor.

According to, these fixations may lead to arthritis in the neck, causing stiffness, pain and perhaps tingling in the arm. Read more about their recommended neck pain treatment.

How Are MSDs Caused

Areas that can create a risk include:

  • repetitive and heavy lifting

  • bending and twisting repeating an action too frequently

  • uncomfortable working position

  • posture disorders

  • exerting too much force

  • vibrations

  • working too long without breaks

  • adverse working environment (e.g. hot, cold)

  • psychosocial factors (e.g. high job demands, time pressures and lack of control)

  • not receiving and acting upon reports of symptoms quick enough

Ref:Health and Safety Executive, UK

Self Check! - Most Common MSDs

Do you do any of this?

The most common causes of MSDs in the office include:

  • Extended periods of unnatural posture while using the computer

  • Inadequate lower back support

  • Sitting in the same position for extended periods

  • Poor ergonomic work station setup

Prevention and Treatment of MSDs

How to Prevent Musculoskeletal disorder

  1. Arrangement of desk, desk chair, computer in relation to the body

  2. Using comfort equipment such as footrests, wrist/palm rests, and document holders if required

  3. Keep the mouse and keyboard at ergonomic levels to the body

  4. Ergonomic technologies eg. Keyboards, mouse, etc

  5. Regular break intervals between tasks

  6. Regular stretching to relax the body

  7. Avoid prolonged exposure to one task

  8. Look for conditions that contribute to MSDs

Get more information on how to prevent ergonomic injuries

Ref: 1) OSHA Contributing Conditions, 2) Musculoskeletal Disorders Wiki, 3) OSHA Europe,

Side note: Eye Strain

Though not a Musculoskeletal disorder, eye strain and eye fatigue is a common computer injury. This could be due to a series of factors

1. Height of monitor to eye level

2. Amount of glare

3. Overhead lighting and other sources of light

4. The level of 'visual peace' in a room (reduce the amount of clutter).

Read more about MSD disorders

BUY Management of Common Musculoskeletal Disorders: Physical Therapy Principles and Methods (Management of Common Musculoskeletal Disorders (Hertling))

Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabiliation, 3e

Thank you for reading 'MSD Disorders'!

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